On Election Day two different ballot measures threatened to shut down all canna-businesses in both the city and county of Pueblo, Colo.: Question 200, which if approved would have terminated all recreational marijuana-related enterprises (including cultivation) in Pueblo County at large was rejected by 58 percent of voters; while Question 300, which proposed shuttering all of Pueblo City’s retail cannabis shops, was turned down by 61 percent of the electorate.
Pueblo’s cannabis industry, which has created over a thousand jobs in the once-depressed municipality since Colorado legalized marijuana in 2012, vigorously campaigned against both initiatives, and now that the public is on their side, they want to seal their place in history. The Growing Pueblo’s Future campaign, successful in its original mission to defeat the measures, has already pivoted to a new cause--creating the country’s first National Marijuana Museum, to chart the 5000-year-old history of cannabis, as well as the achievements of the legal marijuana movement.
Growing Pueblo’s Future spokesman, cannabis retailer, and economics professor Jim Parco said that the coalition of civic and business leaders behind the project was already developing the plan for a museum when Question 200 qualified for the ballot. Since Colorado legalized cannabis, Pueblo has become the state’s second-largest hub for marijuana production with almost 200 related businesses, as it’s also one of very few municipalities which allows for outdoor commercial cultivation. However, detractors of the industry argue that Pueblo’s thriving marijuana sector has also has a economic downside: namely a influx of homeless persons from less liberal, neighboring states, purportedly attracted to Colorado’s legal cannabis and Obamacare, whom supporters of the repeal referendum allege are overburdening social services. The No-on-200 campaign countered that the $3 million in annual tax revenues paid by cannabis companies would be lost to nearby towns under a neo-prohibition, in addition to eliminating 1,300 jobs and almost half of the county’s current construction contracts. It appears that economic appeals were ultimately more persuasive to voters, in an area which has struggled to recover after the departure of its steel industry.
Now triumphant, the group wants to cement Pueblo’s reputation as the “Napa Valley of Weed,”as it was recently named in a 60 Minutes segment (though the farmers of Northern California’s Emerald Triangle would likely disagree). Parco says, “[The museum] would be a wonderful economic engine to drive tourism and generate additional tax dollars…These are the kinds of things we need to do to continue the economic development of our community and cannabis is now giving us that opportunity.” However the election hasn’t settled any disagreements over the costs and benefits of Pueblo’s marijuana laws. On Wednesday the Pueblo Chieftain published an editorial stating that plans for a museum should be put on hold until “independent information” on legal marijuana’s impacts is produced by the new cannabis institute at Colorado State University-Pueblo (funded in part by tax revenue from marijuana); they added, “Building a marijuana museum now would be like building a railroad museum after the first tracks were completed linking east and west”.
The museum’s citizen-organized steering committee is keeping an eye out for suitable real estate while moving forward with early planning, already having announced a tentative opening for summer of 2018. While the reactionary forces critical of commercial cannabis still don’t seem inclined to let the issue rest, even after losing an election, the project’s organizers appear determined to make the museum the final chapter in the endless debate over legal marijuana in Pueblo, by ensuring in this case that history is, once again, written by the victors.