Marijuana, its use and its legality in Colorado, will affect all businesses next year, predicted a contingent of area chamber of commerce and business leaders.

The chamber leaders spoke before Christmas at a Business Journal event.

“We’re all going to have to deal with it sooner or later,” said Terri Hayes, executive director of the Tri-Lakes Chamber in Monument. “Right now, it doesn’t affect us. If it does come to our community, we will take a role and embrace it.”

The Tri-Lakes Chamber does not take a stand, pro or con, on the issue, Hayes said.

It will affect businesses because “each business owner has a liability we need to address” if an employee makes a mistake while high on the drug, said Toby Gannett, secretary of the board of the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance. Gannett’s background is in health care. No one has studied how marijuana reacts with prescription drugs, he said, so there are liability issues there as well. Also, the RBA is concerned about marijuana’s effect on students and the workforce.

Regarding the military, Gannett sounded a familiar alarm.

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“This is a very touchy area, with what’s coming up with the Base Realignment Commission [BRAC],” Gannett said. “Forty-four percent of our economy is dependent on the military, and they’re watching how we implement these laws. It does create a whole series of challenges.”

Drug-testing troubles

For Victor, the largest employer is the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Co., which pays high wages, some starting at $60,000 to $80,000 a year, said Debbie Miller, president of the Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce.

“Isn’t it sad when they can’t find employees to pass a drug test,” Miller said. “So yes, it is having an impact on business.”

Woodland Park’s police department budget is impacted because of the need to test employees, and potential employees, for marijuana, Miller said.

“One thing is clear — this does generate considerable revenue,” said Patrice Christian, committee chair of the Southern Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce. “We have banks as members, and this is a banking issue.”

Because banks cannot process revenues gained through marijuana, they’re in the “cross-hairs of this issue,” Christian said.

In Manitou Springs, the only town in El Paso and Teller counties with a recreational marijuana retail shop, “It’s too soon to tell,” said Manitou Chamber Director Leslie Lewis.

The city’s one store, Maggie’s Farm, was approved for a local license last January but didn’t open until late July, “so we don’t have a lot of statistics yet,” Lewis said.

“Manitou has traffic and parking issues anyway, but the one store that’s opened has done a phenomenal job of dealing with those issues.”

The city’s overall sales tax year to date is up 15 percent, she said. Mayor Marc Snyder said on another occasion that the city collects $100,000 more per month than it had prior to the Maggie’s Farm store’s opening.

“I can’t tell you that all comes from the marijuana industry, but we are seeing some significant cash money that will allow the city to do a number of things,” Lewis said. “Long-term, we’ll have to see what it does to the other businesses.”

Issue’s effects

Jim Stewart, president of the Colorado Springs Black Chamber of Commerce, said that chamber group spends a lot of time on helping create and maintain small businesses.

“We haven’t really done a lot around political subjects,” Stewart said.

“This is an issue that’s clearly wrapped around business itself and one which will embrace all of us at one point or another.”

Later, Hayes said the issue has been good for the citizenry of Palmer Lake, on the county’s northwest edge.

The Palmer Lake Town Council is tasked with deciding whether to allow a recreational marijuana retail outlet there, “and they felt they couldn’t decide without getting the opinions of the residents. So they’ve taken a vote twice, and it’s been turned down twice, but by this much,” Hayes said, putting her thumb and forefinger together.

“I do suspect it will pass, maybe not next year or two years from now, but it’s going to be pretty soon.”

The issue has divided the Palmer Lake area, but “in a way, it’s been kind of good because it’s gotten the community to talk about everything else in the community.”

The Tri-Lakes Chamber does not take a stand on the Palmer Lake issue, Hayes said, “but we will support whatever way the residents will go.”