Less than one week after the 2016 Colorado Legislature's session got underway on Jan. 13, legislators dealt a blow to the Association of Cannabis Social Clubs, killing an unnamed bill the group was hoping would clear up some of the gray area that hovers over cannabis clubs.
Formed last December, the association is made up of three Colorado Springs-based clubs: Studio A64, Speak Easy Vape Lounge and One Love Club. Along with industry leaders, lawyers, lobbyists, law enforcement and government officials, and other stakeholders, the group has been meeting for months to craft legislation that would define what a cannabis club is, what it can do and what role the state should play in regulating it.
Informally, cannabis clubs are private social establishments that welcome cannabis consumption on their premises. The clubs first cropped up after voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, and there are now at least a dozen such clubs in the Springs.
As it stands, each club plays by its own rules. In addition to membership fees, some ask patrons for a reimbursement, gift or donation in exchange for a small quantity of weed to consume on the premises. Clubs operating on this model offer pre-rolled joints, single dabs, bite-size edibles or a gram of bud. But others take a more brazen tack, selling larger quantities to patrons who aren't prevented from walking out the door with it.
Jason Warf lobbies on behalf of the Association of Cannabis Social Clubs, which he says aims to establish industry standards that align with Amendment 64's titular goal to "regulate marijuana like alcohol." He likens the association's ideal of a typical cannabis club transaction to a bar that serves alcohol.
"You can go to a liquor store and buy a case or you can go into a bar and buy a beer," Warf says. "That's what this is."
In order to survive, Warf maintains, clubs must be allowed to sell at least small amounts of marijuana. The BYOB (bring your own bud) model, similar to a cigar bar, isn't profitable, and "club owners can't get by just selling pipes and candy bars," he says.
But, Warf adds, when clubs allow patrons to leave the premises with product, they are operating more or less like a dispensary. And dispensaries don't take that kindly. After all, dispensaries are required to pay recreational marijuana licensing fees that clubs, so far, do not.
"Once you get into that territory," Warf says, "you're stepping on the toes of [dispensary] owners who have shelled out quite a bit of cash to do what they're doing."
Warf says "most of" Colorado Springs' cannabis club owners were invited to join the association as members, though the Indy could not confirm that with all club owners by press time.
State Rep. Kit Roupe, R-Colorado Springs, was poised to sponsor the bill along with Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont. She sent an email to stakeholders on Jan. 16, explaining that due to some "hot disagreements," the fourth draft of the bill would be tabled.
"We've worked very hard together to find some language that will work for most of us in a reasonable fashion," Roupe wrote. "In every meeting, I and Rep. Singer have said plainly we will not introduce a bill that is not ready, and this bill is not ready."
In the absence of state legislation, Warf expects Colorado Springs officials to take up the issue locally, although the bill could be re-introduced in the legislature by different sponsors before the session ends. Colorado Springs' Marijuana Task Force is working to draft an ordinance that deals with licensing, zoning and taxing of the clubs, which it's hoping to finalize in March.