The Colorado Springs skyline sits at the base of Pikes Peak. (Helen H. Richardson, Denver Post file)

Inside a wild week in weed for Colorado Springs

Secret meetings with the feds, head shop busts and 'gateway drug' talk put Colorado's second-largest city in the national spotlight

It’s been a busy week for marijuana in Colorado Springs.

Colorado’s second-largest city is in the national spotlight this week following a closed-door meeting between city leaders and federal officials about marijuana, a drug bust at a head shop business, a district attorney’s statements connecting marijuana and murder, and the emergence of an organization touting the revenue potential of recreational pot.

Here’s what you need to know:

‘Secret’ meetings with the feds

On Wednesday, July 19, local news station 11 News (KKTV) sniffed out that an undisclosed meeting took place between Colorado Springs city leaders and federal agents about marijuana regulations.

The meeting addressed views of local officials and law enforcement toward the state’s marijuana regulatory program, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers told KKTV 11 and The Gazette.

Some discussions centered on what Suthers classified as a “huge” black market and “sensitive case investigations,” The Gazette reported. The representatives from the Justice Department and other federal agencies also heard from medical and education officials, who previously expressed concern about cannabis legalization, according to The Gazette.

KKTV 11 News later obtained slides from the PowerPoint presentation made in the meeting. It was titled, “D.C. Presentation,” and some slides were named “The Legalization of Marijuana and the Unintended Consequences,” and “The New Meth House.” The slides included pictures of grow facilities, listed hazards cited by first responders and outlined negative community effects, according to 11 News.

Public information officials representing Colorado Springs government could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday by The Cannabist.

A day earlier in Denver, five federal officials met with 20 representatives from a variety of Colorado agencies that handle some aspect of marijuana regulations, The Cannabist reported.

Mark Bolton, marijuana advisor to Gov. John Hickenlooper, classified the talks as innocuous. The topic of current or future federal enforcement actions against the regulated marijuana industry was not were not focused on any current or future enforcement was not discussed, he told The Cannabist.

The Denver-based Marijuana Industry Group called for “productive discussion” involving cannabis regulations and requested that a variety of stakeholders be invited to participate in future meetings.

Head shop busted

On Tuesday, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman traveled to the Springs to announce a 13-person indictment related to the bust of an enterprise that allegedly illegally ferried 200 pounds of cannabis through two head shops called Hoppz’ Cropz.

The business model consisted of selling low-cost items at prices far above their worth — such as a lighter for $15 — and packing that with a “free giveaway” of marijuana, Coffman said in a news release.

The Hoppz’ Cropz home page touted “free flower and shatter gifts with all purchases,” according to a screenshot taken Tuesday by The Cannabist. As of Thursday, the webpage still includes that promotion.

Hoppz' Cropz Colorado Springs head shop
Screenshot of Hoppz’ Cropz website taken Tuesday, July 25, 2017. (The Cannabist)

‘Gateway drug to homicide’

At the Hoppz’ Cropz indictment press conference, 4th Judicial District Attorney Dan May said marijuana was “the gateway drug to homicide in our community and across our state,” the Gazette reported.

May claimed marijuana was connected to eight of 22 homicides in Colorado Springs last year, according to KKTV 11 News:

“Colorado Springs Police Department put out this year we had 22 homicides in Colorado Springs last year, 2016. Eight of those were directly marijuana. That isn’t somebody just using marijuana, that is somebody being murdered over legal marijuana grow in their house. Murdered over an illegal marijuana grow.”

May went on to say local authorities are overwhelmed with trying to stop the crime involved with marijuana.

“Marijuana is pouring out of Colorado,” May said. “It’s much more valuable in the streets of New York City than it is in the streets of Denver. Colorado’s system is terrible.”

A query to May’s office Thursday by The Cannabist was not immediately returned.

Attitudes on adult-use

Meanwhile, Colorado Springs’ newspaper of record decided to take the temperature on city leaders’ attitudes toward recreational marijuana.

The majority of Colorado Springs City Council members think voters should decide on whether their city allows recreational marijuana, according to The Gazette, which conducted an informal poll of council members last week.

Six of nine council members told The Gazette they would favor a recreational marijuana ballot measure going before voters.

“We need to have a big community discussion,” City Council President Richard Skorman told The Gazette. “The majority of the voters here did support it.”

In November 2012, Colorado Springs-area voters were practically evenly split on Amendment 64 — the ballot measure to tax and regulate the sale of adult-use cannabis. A total of 141,696 voters in El Paso County were in favor of the measure, while 141,686 opposed, according to county election results.

Potential economic impact

If Colorado Springs were to legalize, regulate and tax recreational marijuana sales, the city could reel in $25.4 million in tax revenue and permit fees in 2018, according to a study released Thursday by Jack Strauss, the Miller Chair of Applied Economics at the University of Denver’s Daniels School of Business.

The study also projected that legalization could create between 1,320 and 1,762 jobs for the region.

Strauss’ study was commissioned by the Colorado Springs-based Citizens for Safer Neighborhoods, a newly launched collective of residents and business people advocating for the city to adopt recreational marijuana laws.

“The homicides are happening in the black market,” said Mike Elliott, spokesman for Citizens for Safer Neighborhoods. “We are the solution to that problem.”

Citizens for Safer Neighborhoods distributed Strauss’ study to city council members and was planning to deliver the report to Suthers as well, Elliott said.

As to whether the organization would launch a ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana, Elliott said, “All options are on the table.”

“One thing is clear, these criminal organizations operating in the black market enjoy marijuana being illegal more than anyone,” Elliott said. “What we’re showing here, by allowing these licensed businesses, we can massively disrupt these criminal organizations and suck money away from them.”

Read the DU study looking at Colorado Springs: