The panel included, from left, Michael Elliott, Rick Kreminski, Marc Snyder, Tatiana Bailey and moderator Susan Davies.
The panel included, from left, Michael Elliott, Rick Kreminski, Marc Snyder, Tatiana Bailey and moderator Susan Davies.

Marc Snyder slowly, and reluctantly, changed his mind about retail marijuana stores. He was mayor of Manitou Springs when Colorado voters passed Amendment 64 in 2012, which legalized retail marijuana in the state.

“I had some reservations,” Snyder said prior to participating in a panel discussion entitled “The Social and Economic Impact of Legalized Recreational Marijuana” hosted by the Pikes Peak Women’s group at Library 21c on Feb. 1.

“I really thought it was a solution looking for a problem,” Snyder said of retail pot stores, “but I really learned a lot through all of the process in Manitou Springs, and I’ve come around to grudgingly admitting that this is the better way forward.”

Would that also be true for Colorado Springs?

“One thing I’ve learned is that the good people of Colorado Springs don’t necessarily appreciate us Manitouans opining on what they should do,” Snyder said.

He was joined on the panel by Tatiana Bailey, director of the UCCS Economic Forum; Michael Elliott, an attorney specializing in cannabis policy and politics, and founder of MRE Legal Consulting; and Rick Kreminski, CSU-Pueblo’s executive director of Research and Sponsored Programs and the school’s director of the Institute of Cannabis Research.

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Tax revenue helpful

Elliott said licensed retail and medical marijuana stores statewide have generated more than $500 million in state tax revenue since 2014. The retail marijuana tax revenue aids school construction, education and prevention efforts and funds the Marijuana Enforcement Division.

“The 2015 numbers are the most solid that we have,” Bailey said, noting that the state’s legal marijuana sales were $996 million that year. “It was about 60 percent retail and 40 percent medical [marijuana]. By 2020 it’s projected to be a $1.5 billion industry.”

Amendment 64 was touted as a great aid for schools but Snyder and Bailey both said that first $40 million in retail marijuana tax revenue is just a band-aid on a huge problem.

Elliott said Aurora used some of its retail marijuana tax revenue to build a winter homeless shelter and Edgewater built a new city hall.

Snyder said Manitou Springs has used some of the money to obtain matching grants for flood mitigation projects and to buy new fire trucks in 2015 and ’17.

“We usually save up 10 years to buy a fire truck,” he said. “They’re over $500,000 each. [Retail marijuana tax revenue] has really accelerated our ability to meet the city’s needs.”

He said the city’s budget jumped from $6.2 million in 2014 to $9.8 million in 2016, largely due to sales from Manitou’s two retail marijuana stores. Those stores don’t have to reveal sales or tax revenue numbers, he said, unless there are three in town, which creates a category for the Department of Revenue.

He said the city’s reserve fund has grown from about $100,000 when he became mayor in 2010 to $1.3 million when he left office in 2016.

“The biggest benefactors, I’d say, were hotels and motels, and restaurants,” Snyder said. “It’s been a real game-changer.”

Health and homelessness

Much of the panel discussion turned to health as it concerns teenagers, although retail marijuana is illegal for any person younger than 21 years old. Still, Snyder said when he used to ask kids why they didn’t smoke pot, they would say it’s illegal. Now that their parents can buy it, they don’t seem as concerned.

Kreminski told the Business Journal that CSU-Pueblo’s Institute of Cannabis Research has more than two dozen faculty members working on an impact study ordered by Pueblo County commissioners. His group is also studying the effects of cannabis on mice.

“There is interesting science we’re doing in the mouse studies … to understand the endocannabinoid system, so the natural cannabinoid system that we all have, how does that function and what happens when that is malfunctioning?

“Think of something like [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder]. Is there an effective treatment using cannabidiol, CBD, for PTSD, maybe mixed with THC [marijuana’s psychoactive compound]. Well, for some people maybe it is effective and for some people it would be a disaster, so how do you know which is which?”

CSU-Pueblo is also watching the effect on people who have seizures and are taking cannabis.

Bailey cited data that the 29 states that allow medical marijuana sales — there are nine states plus Washington, D.C., also allowing retail pot sales — suffer fewer opioid deaths.

“Medical [marijuana] is pretty accepted in the medical community,” she said.

She said while homelessness in the United States declined by 3 percent from 2015 to ’16, it went up 6 percent in Colorado, despite a good economy. Anecdotally, she said, the Denver St. Francis Center and the Denver Salvation Army asked homeless people in the state capital, and 30 percent from other states said they were in Colorado to consume marijuana without fear of prosecution or they were looking for work in the industry.

Kreminski said the retail marijuana tax revenue in Pueblo County “far exceeds those social services costs” for homeless people.

Pikes Peak Women moderator Susan Davies said the legalization of retail marijuana created 18,000 jobs in 2015 and generated close to $2.5 billion in economic activity.

Elliott argues that retail marijuana stores can ease the influence of black market sales.

“We need to bring the black market out of the shadows,” he said, “and make them licensed, regulated and taxed businesses.”

Kreminski said an academic benefit in Pueblo County is that commissioners passed legislation that requires the retail marijuana tax revenue to fund $2,000 college scholarships for any high school graduating senior in the county that attends college in the county. Scholarships totaled $420,000 in 2017 and are expected to provide about $750,000 to students in 2018.

Marijuana taxes, license and fee revenue

2014: $67.6 million

2015: $130.4 million

2016: $193.6 million

2017: $247.4 million

Source: Colorado Department of Revenue

Retail by the numbers

States with retail sales: Nine plus District of Columbia

States with medical sales: 29 plus District of Columbia

Colorado marijuana tax revenue: More than $500 million since 2014

Manitou Springs city budget 2014: $6.2 million

Manitou Springs city budget 2016: $9.8 million

Pueblo County marijuana-tax scholarships 2017: $420,000

Pueblo County marijuana-tax scholarships 2018: projected $750,000