Council wants cannabis clubs out; clubs dig in heels 


click to enlarge One Love Club owner Jered McCusker testifies during public comment. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • One Love Club owner Jered McCusker testifies during public comment.

On Tuesday, March 8, after a marathon public comment period, Colorado Springs City Council voted to ban cannabis clubs in the city by 2024. The 6-3 vote comes after years of deliberation over how to handle the clubs, which provide a social setting to consume legal cannabis. Though many in attendance testified that the clubs are a place of community, refuge and healing, detractors see the clubs' mere existence as flagrantly defying the previous Council's decision to opt out of recreational sales following statewide legalization.

This ordinance, which will get its final reading on March 22, sets up the framework for the ban. It prohibits the opening of any new Marijuana Consumption Club (MCC) — defined as "an establishment, organization, association, club, teapad, or other similar entity or place where a purpose is to allow the consumption of marijuana, medical marijuana or marijuana product on the premises" — but lets certain clubs stay open, for now.

Of the approximately 15 existing clubs, only those "lawfully operating" prior to the moratorium that began Sept. 22, 2015, earn grandfathered status. What does "lawfully operating" mean? Planning and Community Development Manager Peter Wysocki will have the final say, but the basic gist is a club must have been operating according to the "similar use" determination granted to Studio A64 during a 2014 zoning violation appeal. That determination says a cannabis club is like a social club, which falls under the parent definition for membership clubs — zoned for multifamily residential, commercial and industrial zone districts.

The clubs fitting that criteria will have to apply for a license from the city by April 29 and comply with new rules to go along with it, including a mandatory ventilation and filtration system; no marijuana sales/trades/reimbursements/whatever you want to call it; no entry for those under age 21; no on-site cultivation; and no operating between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m. Licensed clubs will have until the year 2024 to recoup their investments, then close up shop. (Councilor Tom Strand proposed the eight-year phase-out rather than the five years recommended in an earlier draft.)

Jill Gaebler, Bill Murray and Helen Collins were the three no votes.

Councilor Don Knight, who led the charge to ban the clubs, explained that stamping out all things marijuana in the Springs is exactly what he intends. "We are calling ourselves Olympic City USA, [and] we are a military-friendly town," he said. "Military does not allow it. Olympians, they get tested, so it's not good for Olympians. It just doesn't fit in the city."

But unlike the decision to brand the Springs as Olympic City USA, the public actually voted on whether marijuana "fits" here. A majority of Springs voters supported the legalization of recreational sales in 2012 (though their elected officials wished otherwise).

With the ban looking more likely than ever, owners are weighing their options, which at this point include boycotting the license, trying to recall certain Councilors, mounting a challenge in court, and/or launching a ballot initiative.

"Colorado Springs City Council's vote will not result in a ban on clubs," industry lobbyist Jason Warf declared. "Our owners and the owners that I talked to have no plans to change, obtain a city license or shut down. We are confident the owners will win in court, and the end result will be a completely unregulated industry."

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