Marijuana Club Raid Shows Why Social Use Initiative Needed, Denver NORML Says

This week, federal agents, including representatives from the Internal Revenue Service, raided the Lazy Lion, a marijuana club that's been operating for well over a year.

And while the Lazy Lion is in Colorado Springs, not Denver, Jordan Person, executive director of Denver NORML, thinks the incident demonstrates why the Mile High City needs to allow social marijuana use — the goal of an initiative from the organization that will be unveiled soon with an eye toward the November 2016 election.

Moreover, she feels that the passage of such a measure here will help communities throughout the state.

"We're looking at doing this strictly in Denver," Person says. "But we feel Denver leads the state in marijuana policy discussions. So we're using the situation in Colorado Springs as an example of how, if we don't do something now, this kind of thing is going to continue to happen."

Colorado Springs doesn't allow recreational marijuana sales, as does Denver.

As a result, the Lazy Lion is using what its attorney describes to KOAA-TV in the Springs as "a loophole in the law."

Essentially, the venue operates as a members-only smoking club. Membership costs $5, with those who pony up agreeing to "reimburse" the business for the marijuana it provides.

The station sent an undercover crew into the club in 2014 to see how the system worked — and an employee recorded during the visit described it this way:

“So basically, what that means is it's your marijuana. It's your extracts. We just grow it and make it for you. Since it already belongs to you, we just grow it; the term we use when you go back there to get it is 'reimburse.' You are giving us our money back for growing your buds, which makes it a reimbursement. Does that make sense?"

Apparently it didn't to the feds, who busted the operation on Tuesday, January 26.

Raids took place at multiple Denver marijuana clubs last 4/20 weekend, too — and Person thinks clarity in the law is the best way to avoid such actions in the future.

"This situation has gone on for far too long — since January 1, 2014, when cannabis became recreationally available," she says. "As soon as the proposal went into effect, people started coming to Colorado and purchasing, and then discovering that there was nowhere they could consume legally. Public-use citations in our city are up over 400 percent."

Person doesn't blame the police for issuing these tickets. "I feel they're just following the policy they've been given. That's why we need a new policy."

This week, Person and Denver NORML reps have been meeting with various stakeholders in the marijuana and business community, including representatives of a social-use initiative that was created last year, then withdrawn after a pact to negotiate with officials and community interests to find a solution that benefited everyone. Several months have passed since then, and proponent Mason Tvert recently told us he's ready to reintroduce his initiative if an agreement isn't reached.

Does that mean the Denver ballot could feature two competing social use initiatives? Person doubts it. "We're open for discussions with anyone," she maintains, adding that she sees value in elements of a bill on the subject backed by state reps Jonathan Singer and Kit Roupe (the latter is from Colorado Springs).

"We hope to come up with a good enough policy that we can influence the rest of the state," she adds, "so everyone can be on the same page. And we're working with both Colorado NORML and the national NORML organization. I feel that if our initiative is a success, and with their backing, there's no reason why we can't take it around the state, and to other states, for that matter. This is needed everywhere where cannabis is legal."

As for when the initiative will be completed, Person suggests that it could be ready in a matter of weeks.

Look below to see three videos: a report about the Lazy Lion raid from KOAA (use the slider to get to the item), a YouTube clip sporting more raid footage and a mini-documentary that takes you inside the Lazy Lion.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts