The ban on cannabis clubs in Colorado Springs is just about a done deal after petitioners missed a critical deadline. When 5 p.m. came and went on Thursday, April 20, with no sign of submitted signatures, City Clerk Sarah Johnson announced that "the referendum process stops and the ordinances are now effective."
Brought forward by Councilor Don Knight (for reasons you can learn more about in last week's CannaBiz), the ordinances create a new license for "marijuana consumption clubs," though only those that meet certain criteria; establish a licensing fee structure; and require grandfathered clubs to shut down by 2024. Immediately after City Council passed that legislation by a 6-3 vote on March 22, a coalition of eight local clubs came together as the People's Social Alliance to launch a defensive effort that temporarily shelved the ordinances.
Per city charter, the PSA needed 14,469 signatures on three separate petitions to force a referendum, which would have asked Council to consider repealing the ordinances. Should they have declined, it would have then taken the question to voters in a special election.
On the eve of the petition deadline, owner of My Club 420 and PSA member Anthony Robinson felt good about the number of signatures his crew had gathered — about 6,000, he says — but was resigned to the likelihood that they would fall short of the required threshold.
One issue was that the petitions mostly circulated inside the clubs rather than out in the community. Another was a misconception floating around that petitioners would receive a 30-day extension.
Clerk Sarah Johnson was befuddled by that rumor. "I have no idea where that came from," she says, adding that licensing applications are posted now on the city's website.
Though the ban is officially on the books currently, club supporters still have two potential lifelines.
One is a pending lawsuit that asks a district judge to strike down the ban on behalf of club owners who argue that prohibiting adults from assembling to consume cannabis in private violates a number of constitutional rights. Should the plaintiffs succeed, clubs would earn explicit protection in this very nascent area of case law.
The other lifeline comes in the form of a tenuously rekindled bill to license and regulate private marijuana clubs, sponsored by Denver Democrat Jonathan Singer in the state House. As of press time, no state senator has committed to co--sponsoring, and the bill has technically yet to be introduced.
"I hope we can move the ball forward," Rep. Singer says via email. "The bottom line is that every 21-year-old adult should be able to safely consume marijuana away from their home but also away from our parks."
There is no state-sanctioned model or definition for legal marijuana consumption outside of private residences, which is perhaps why cities like the Springs are wary of taking the first stab at it.
"If this bill does see light of day it would provide the bare bones framework for what a sales room or club would look like," says Tyler Henson, president of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce — otherwise known as C4, an industry lobbying group. "It would give local jurisdictions the push-start they need."
In the spirit of the "local control" so prized at the Capitol, the bill would let municipalities opt out, which worries longtime advocate Jason Warf. "We've seen a blatant disregard for public opinion," he says of this city's post-Amendment 64 marijuana policies. "Our club owners are intelligent business owners — they've been asking for [regulation] since day one."
He sees the Springs' new version of the club license (set to phase out in eight years) as unreasonably restrictive and destined to fail. "We're walking a fine line with overregulation," he says. "If [lawmakers] aren't careful, we could end up with a system that's totally Wild West. And I don't think that's what anyone wants."