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Manitou's deep marijuana divide 

Between the Lines

Through the years, Manitou Springs has embraced its reputation and personality: open-minded (some say liberal, but that's painting with too broad of a brush), fun-loving and, most of all, tolerant.

Many have defined it another way: Live and let live.

Yet now, a good-sized element of Manitou wants to steer the city of about 5,200 in a different direction. They think the tolerance has gone too far with Manitou becoming the first place in El Paso County to license the sale of retail marijuana for recreational purposes.

That group felt Manitou's City Council was wrong to take the step without voter approval, despite the fact Manitou approved Amendment 64 (legalizing recreational use) by a wide margin in 2012, and voted 67 percent to 33 percent in 2013 (the actual tally was 1,218 to 597) to allow an added sales tax on retail marijuana.

To many, that follow-up vote was a mandate that Manitou was OK with retail marijuana. But when no other city in the county went along, that clearly affected many Manitoids who feared the worst — key word there being "fear."

So a petition drive led to ballot issue 2G, a shrewdly worded question that means a "yes" vote would outlaw retail marijuana in Manitou, while a "no" vote would allow the continued sale of recreational pot.

The result has been as much divisiveness as Manitou has endured in a long time. Many against 2G say the town always has condoned marijuana use, looking the other way as pot has been easily available for decades.

But 2G backers insist retail marijuana damages the fabric of Manitou, and they believe it despite lower crime, no traffic issues and $223,000 in local tax revenue (at the rate approved last November) since Maggie's Farm opened July 31.

Signs have popped up across the town with the message: Don't let Manitou go to pot! And 2G organizers — among them School District 14 Superintendent Ed Longfield, former Mayor Marcy Morrison and former star athlete Justin Armour — have put their names and faces on advertising and mass mailers. Meanwhile, many who see no problem with well-regulated marijuana have their own 2G slogan: Just say no.

Longtime Manitou residents feel the outcome will be close. If turnout is poor, 2G likely will pass, and Manitou would see retail marijuana banned "almost immediately," according to Manitou Mayor Marc Snyder. Maggie's Farm also is licensed for medical marijuana (though it sells only retail in Manitou) and technically could continue that way at the same location. Regardless, that sales-tax windfall would seriously shrink.

But if turnout is strong, 2G might lose and nothing will change.

Manitou's fluctuations in voting numbers can be huge. Nearly 3,000 voted in 2012, but only about 1,800 in 2013.

The concern among those who embrace the "live and let live" credo is that the 2G campaign could leave deep, nasty wounds in Manitou's collective psyche.

"It's so rare to see Manitou like this," says Snyder. "There just seems to be no middle ground. Always before, when we've had disagreements in Manitou, once they've been decided, everyone has just moved on. But that might not happen this time. It might take some people a long time to get over it, whichever way it goes."

Some 2G supporters say retail marijuana already has caused people to leave Manitou. Snyder disagrees, saying, "That rumor is incorrect. I know otherwise — a few have moved, but they had other reasons." And the real-estate market in Manitou still is outperforming most of El Paso County.

As for fears about negative impact on tourism, Snyder points to much-higher tax numbers (not counting marijuana) for Manitou this summer, even after the Manitou Incline's closure for repairs. "If anything," Snyder adds, "you could argue that retail marijuana has helped tourism, not hurt."

But those details might not matter. This has turned into a moral issue based on emotions, not facts, which explains the divisiveness. Both sides think their ideals for Manitou Springs are endangered.

The ballots are in voters' hands. Those favoring 2G are numerous and determined. Those who approve of retail marijuana have to vote against 2G or be prepared to accept the consequences.

And Manitou's very personality could be on the line.

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