In Colorado, a county revolts against legalized marijuana

Sweeney_02pueblo04_metPUEBLO WEST, Colo. — Out here, in this unincorporated community of 30,000, there are miles of barren scrub-brush dotted with wild sunflowers. Low-slung houses sit on East Gun Powder Lane and North Cougar Drive. There’s a Walmart Supercenter, a Little Caesars, a Safeway with a small Starbucks tucked inside.

And, throughout the area, a revolt against retail marijuana sales smolders in a state awash in $1 billion of legal pot.

Four years ago, Coloradans voted to legalize marijuana for adults, and gave individual localities the opportunity to decide if they would allow retail marijuana shops.

But after local officials here welcomed the new industry, anti-marijuana activists in Pueblo County gathered enough signatures to force an unprecedented question on the November ballot: whether to terminate recreational marijuana sales and operations.

The Pueblo campaign comes just as Massachusetts and four other states are poised to vote on marijuana legalization Nov. 8. The debate in Colorado serves as a cautionary tale about the ambivalence of a community that has lived with legal marijuana and its myriad consequences, negative and positive.

Backers of the Pueblo repeal effort say retail marijuana shops and farms have brought increased vagrancy, crime, and an undesirable reputation as the pot capital of southern Colorado. Supporters of the status quo say the new industry has helped revitalize an area that has long struggled economically. Repeal, they say, would cost more than a thousand jobs. It would be giving in to the retrograde impulses of “prohibitionists.”

Possessing and using marijuana will remain legal in the county if voters back the measure. So will shops selling medical marijuana. But the facilities that are engaged in the recreational trade — more than 100 dispensaries, cultivation facilities, and infused product manufacturers — would have to shut down within a year.

The ballot question will force voters here to balance an array of competing claims. Has life in the county changed for better or for worse since the first dispensary opened in early 2014? Has crime gone up or down? Are the increased economic activity, jobs, and tax revenue worth the cost?

And is it wise — or even possible — to put the marijuana genie back in the bottle?

Source: Boston Globe