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Social clubs could be the future, if they survive the next few months 

Out of the basement

It's a tale as old as time: Friends gather in basements to hang out. They smoke joints and munch comestibles. Enjoyment ensues.

Start calling friends "members" and basements "lounges," and you've discovered post-legalization social cannabis clubs, which are popping up across the state in the wake of the passage of Amendment 64.

Four are leading the movement in Colorado Springs: Club 710, Studio A64, the Speak Easy Vape Lounge and the Lazy Lion.

The first to organize, Club 710, has been around since before Amendment 64, meeting in the living rooms and, yes, basements of its members, says co-founder Rob Tillery. In its first official attempt at legitimacy, the group gathered in local bars after hours for about nine weeks. When the liquor board shut that down, says Tillery, several members pooled their money to lease an abandoned bar (the old Happy Hour Bar & Grill) at 1677 Jet Wing Drive. About 70 members held their first meeting there in March.

"It's kind of like just sitting around a kitchen table and smoking with some friends," Tillery says, noting the naturally laid-back vibe and themed nights, like game nights on Mondays, or Saturday meetings for fans of smoking concentrates.

Meanwhile, KC Stark's Studio A64 opened downtown, above the Triple Nickel Tavern, on Valentine's Day, as a cannabis-friendly recording studio. The 1,200-square-foot space includes hand-blown glass fixtures and displays, a cappuccino bar, and a Las Vegas-style casino table. Stark describes the club as an upscale lounge established for "Americans to gather and express their rights."

Then there's the Speak Easy Vape Lounge, which held a grand opening April 1, in a 3,600-square-foot space at 2508 E. Bijou St. (That's just three blocks away from the Lazy Lion, at 2502 E. Bijou, whose owners couldn't be reached for this story.) Speak Easy is modeled after a hookah bar with several lounge areas, pool tables, dart boards and flat-screen televisions. Lounge co-owner Jaymen Johnson says he's hoping the classy atmosphere will encourage classy conduct.

"We spent a lot of money making this place as high-end as possible," Johnson says. "We want to provide something that's up to Broadmoor-level status, something [our patrons] can be proud of."

The law says ...

Of course, that's not all there is to it.

First, since state law does not yet allow for the legal sale of recreational marijuana, and individuals are allowed to possess up to an ounce, clubs have adopted a bring-your-own-cannabis business model. They will sell packaged snacks, non-alcoholic drinks, glass pipes and promotional merchandise, but all the owners describe strict policies to prohibit employees and customers from buying or selling marijuana.

"If that happens, people go to jail, and we don't want that," Stark says. "We need to be responsible with our clubs and our businesses if we want to keep our rights intact."

The amendment also prohibits public consumption of marijuana, so the clubs charge membership fees to patrons, who then become part of a private club and can smoke in the private establishments.

At least for now. In addition to concerns about whether the new establishments violate the 2006 Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act, it's not clear what's public and what's not. Jack Finlaw, chief legal counsel for Gov. John Hickenlooper, says officials are still debating the new law and its implications.

"Amendment 64 says you cannot consume marijuana openly or publicly, or in a manner that can harm others," says Finlaw. "As the Legislature works through this and defines the terms 'openly and publicly' ... they may say that consumption in a club-like atmosphere is open and public. I think that is one of the big unknown questions yet to be figured out."

Not surprisingly, Tillery doesn't see that happening. "Legally, they can't write a rule that says legal adults can't gather on private property and do something legal," he argues. "You can't write a rule that stops what we're doing."

Make it, or ...

Finlaw expects the Legislature to pass a clarifying bill before the end of the session on May 8. But either way, he thinks decisions ultimately will be left to local and city officials, who could choose to regulate or ban similar businesses.

The club owners recognize this, of course, and all have identified ways to carry on if the law turns against them. For example, Studio A64 could remain a recording studio. The Jet Wing club could become an events center, or reception hall, while Johnson says Speak Easy could transform into a tobacco-only hookah bar, if necessary.

That said, nobody's looking at Plan B just yet.

"I'm an American and I can read, so I don't need the state to tell me what my constitutional rights are," Stark says. "I know my rights, and I do not sell, so I dare you: Come and put me in jail, and I'll see you in court."

newsroom@csindy.com

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