By Bart Schaneman
This week’s defeat by voters of a proposed ban on recreational marijuana businesses in Pueblo County, Colorado, forestalled a possible domino effect that could have unleashed major fallout for the state’s cannabis industry.
The lopsided vote also represents a strong show of support for recreational cannabis businesses four years after Colorado legalized adult-use marijauna, indicating that many residents feel the benefits of the industry outweigh any negatives.
Pueblo’s cannabis industry, located in southern Colorado, has created more than 1,300 jobs and is an important generator of millions of tax dollars for the local community.
Cannabis industry officials had warned that a yes vote would have dried up a major marijuana supply center for the state. Also, dozens of businesses would have been forced to close and scores of workers could have lost their jobs.
Not only that, but Pueblo could have become a successful testing ground for prohibitionists planning to implement a similar campaign strategy elsewhere in Colorado – and perhaps beyond.
In Tuesday’s vote, residents considered two ballot initiatives – Propositions 200 and 300 – to ban rec businesses in both the county and city of Pueblo. Both measures lost by margins of more than 10 percentage points.
Jim Parco, owner of Mesa Organics dispensary in Pueblo, led the fight to keep recreational cannabis alive in his town. He pointed out that more Pueblo County voters cast ballots on Proposition 200, the county initiative, than in Tuesday’s presidential election.
“So clearly there’s a strength of intensity on this,” Parco said. “This is the arc of progress. We have moved forward. Prohibition is over.”
To him, the election results showed that the citizens of Pueblo were far more in favor of a regulated recreational cannabis market than allowing the commerce and tax revenue to revert to the black market.
A major supply source
Pueblo County serves as a major supply source of raw marijuana to the entire state of Colorado – some estimates say it supplies 30% or more, with much of it grown outdoors. And if adult-use operations had been repealed, it could have been disastrous for marijuana businesses across the state, according to industry officials.
Peter Mutty, general manager of Starbuds dispensary in Pueblo, highlighted the boost to the economy marijuana has provided for the town and county.
“If Pueblo becomes the Silicon Valley of cannabis that’s fabulous,” he said. “I hope that we just continue to have a license to grow and contribute to the economy.”
With this perceived mandate in support of MJ businesses, Pueblo cannabis industry officials are taking it a step further with plans to build a national marijuana museum.
While located in a tourism-heavy state, Parco noted Pueblo doesn’t have the same natural tourism draws that benefit other cities within close proximity to the Rocky Mountains. Industry officials hope the museum will help make the city a destination for marijuana tourists.
“Pueblo is a community that has always struggled to create industry and growth,” Parco added. “This is something we’ve worked tirelessly for. The cannabis industry has been fantastic for Pueblo County because we’ve finally found something where we have a competitive advantage.”
The plan is to open the museum by 2018.
Bart Schaneman can be reached at [email protected]