(Seth McConnell, Denver Post file)

Littleton nixes plan to repeal recreational pot ban

LITTLETON — Elected leaders in this suburb south of Denver shot down a proposal to allow recreational marijuana sales late Tuesday night, capping a long evening of heartfelt back and forth by those on both sides of the issue.

More than 50 residents signed up to weigh in on a proposal to end Littleton’s nearly 2-year-old ban on recreational pot. The final vote was 5-1 against the measure.

Ron Castagna, former Lakewood High School principal, said cannabis would do nothing less than erode the pillars of society.

“Are we going to be the place where Nero fiddled and Rome burned, or are we going to have the integrity to say enough?” he asked. “This is about what kind of society we want.”

Mary Harpole, 17, a student at Regis Jesuit High School, said she grew up in Littleton and wants to raise a family in the city she loves. But she said legal retail pot would be a major hindrance to that dream.

“I don’t want to have to move out of the place I love because of the influx of use and abuse,” Harpole said. “I don’t want to raise kids where buying a drug is easy.”

Recreational marijuana advocates also showed up in healthy numbers Tuesday. Many were employees of The Green Solution, a medical marijuana dispensary in Littleton.

Brad Speidell, chief operating officer for The Green Solution, said he would be able to increase his payroll from seven employees in Littleton to 25 if recreational pot sales were allowed.

“Lifting the ban on retail sales will add 18 jobs in the city of Littleton,” Speidell said.

He noted that society struggles with deaths every day from opioid abuse but that marijuana has never proven to be a killer.

Many of those who spoke in favor of retail marijuana sales said Littleton could stand to bring in a substantial amount of sales tax revenue if the trade is legalized.

Councilman Doug Clark was the sole yes vote on the ordinance, saying that Littleton voters’ decision more than three years ago to pass Amendment 64 compelled him to carry out “the will of the people” on Tuesday.

But Councilwoman Peggy Cole said she received more than 30 emails from constituents pleading against a lifting of the ban.

“Many of them talked about why they moved to Littleton for the family-friendly community,” she said.

The city’s ordinance would have permitted four dual license marijuana businesses — one license for medical marijuana and one for recreational weed. Littleton’s police chief had told the city that he didn’t anticipate problems with the opening of pot shops.

The city would charge $2,500 a year for a recreational marijuana license.

Besides Glendale and Aurora, no cities in Arapahoe County allow recreational marijuana sales. If Littleton’s ordinance had been successful, it would have represented the southernmost location for pot shops in the metro area. There are no legal sales of recreational marijuana in all of Douglas County.

Two medical marijuana businesses in Littleton drove the campaign for recreational pot sales in the city.

Melissa Van Diest, co-owner of The Hemp Center on Main Street, who was not one of the store owners behind the campaign, said that “it’s about time” Littleton greenlighted recreational sales.

She said she gets 20 to 30 calls and 15 walk-ins a day asking about recreational cannabis.

“I turn so many people away, and it drives me crazy,” Van Diest said. “It’s Colorado — everyone smokes weed. Take the money, and run. That’s what I would tell the city.”

John Aguilar: 303-954-1695, jaguilar@denverpost.com or @abuvthefold

This story was first published on DenverPost.com