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Marijuana clubs: Mayor's call for a ban blatantly unconstitutional, advocate says

This week, Mayor Michael Hancock appeared before a Denver City Council subcommittee to talk marijuana. And during his time in the spotlight (see a video of his chat below), he made it clear that if he had his way, pot would be tightly regulated and clubs for those who want to consume it would be banned.

His remarks stuck in the craw of attorney Rob Corry, a pot club backer who spoke at the same subcommittee meeting. He sees Hancock's proposed club prohibition as both wrongheaded and unconstitutional.

At the Monday session, Hancock framed his objections to marijuana clubs around the issuing of driving while stoned. He maintained that cops have only recently gotten a handle on how to tell if someone is suffering from THC impairment -- a claim certain to be disputed by law-enforcement types, since the behavior has long been illegal -- and suggested that such venues would put even more dangerous potheads on the road.

Michael Hancock speaking before the Denver City Council marijuana subcommittee.
Michael Hancock speaking before the Denver City Council marijuana subcommittee.

"We remind ourselves that we're still dealing with a federally controlled substance," he said, adding, "I don't believe it is wise to open the door even wider for people to move about our public from a private club to their private home while consuming marijuana. And the more we restrict it, to me, the more safe our community will be. There's no reason we need to open up that Pandora's box when the law doesn't speak to it.

"I propose and advocate for the most restrictive regulatory environment for marijuana," he went on, "and I believe that by allowing for private clubs, it doesn't speak to that value."

These comments, and others like them, thrilled Smart Colorado, an organization that wants to err on the side of caution when implementing Amendment 64. A statement from spokeswoman Diane Carlson reads:

Smart Colorado applauds Denver Mayor Michael Hancock for his leadership on this difficult issue. His strong statement to the city council stakes positions we support: Our top priorities must be protection of public health and safety for individuals and communities. Smart Colorado agrees with Mayor Hancock that the regulatory structure of marijuana must pay for itself. We agree that public hearings must be required before pot retailers are allowed to open. We agree that Denver should not support public marijuana consumption. Smart Colorado hopes the Denver City Council will be inspired by Mayor Hancock's words when considering the safest and most responsible approaches to Amendment 64.

Far less enthusiastic is Corry, with whom we spoke for yesterday's post about his decision not to challenge CU-Boulder's campus closure on 4/20.

At the dawn of the new year, Corry appeared twice on CNN to tout Club 64, described as Colorado's first pot club; we've included both of those clips here as well. He continues to see clubs like this as perfectly legal under Colorado law and argues that restrictions on them would run afoul of the state constitution.

Continue for more about marijuana clubs, including photos and videos.   During his own time before the subcommittee, Corry looked at the regulatory structure currently imposed on medical marijuana businesses in Denver with an eye toward recreational-weed outlets.

Marijuana advocate Miguel Lopez at the Club 64 grand opening, as seen in a CNN report.
Marijuana advocate Miguel Lopez at the Club 64 grand opening, as seen in a CNN report.

As he points out, "the council used a vehicular analogy" when talking about the cannabis industry. "They said this vehicle, meaning the MMJ system, just needs to be better funded and it will run smoothly. And I went with that analogy. I said, 'No, the fundamental structure and design of this vehicle is flawed. The current regulatory system is more akin to an East German Trabant -- it's an utterly flawed design.'

"You could dump ten times more money into a Trabant factory and afterward, you'd still be driving a Trabant -- a car that's ugly and barely runs. That's why the fundamental structure of the regulatory system needs to be overhauled. We could have a Cadillac that runs great -- a product of a free-market economic system."

Regarding Hancock's comments, Corry puts it this way: "The Mayor took the extraordinary step of suggesting that somehow government can ban individuals in a free country from gathering together and associating and conducting activities that are legal. Somehow he thinks that can be banned, to which I say, 'Good luck.' Private associations are legal in the United States of America.

"Think about what it would be like if we were to ban alcohol bars in Colorado. Let's say Denver could somehow get away with that. Well, people are still going to gather and drink alcohol together -- but where are they going to do it? In homes, neighborhoods, residential places where children are at home. Mayor Hancock uses children as a prop, saying we're going to ban marijuana clubs to keep them safe. But what that would really do is bring a marijuana club to your neighborhood. It would have the diametrically opposite effect of what was intended."

In Corry's view, the stated objective of Amendment 64 -- to treat marijuana like alcohol -- should guide the council's actions.

Continue for more about marijuana clubs, including three videos.   "Last time I checked, there are retail alcohol stores, where you can buy it and bring it home, and there are also bars, where you can purchase alcohol and consume it on site," Corry says. "Both of those things should exist in a regulated, taxed, for-profit model, and they should exist throughout the state -- both marijuana clubs and alcohol clubs."

Rob Corry with Club 64 co-owner Chloe Villano at the venue's grand opening.
Rob Corry with Club 64 co-owner Chloe Villano at the venue's grand opening.

At the meeting, Corry sensed push-back from some council members regarding the idea of banning clubs, and he understands, both from the standpoint of potential legal challenges and money for the city.

"Why wouldn't Denver want to capture all that tax revenue, just like they do from alcohol bars?" Corry asks. "There would be both licensing revenue and tax revenue -- and jobs. If you banned alcohol bars in Denver, you'd be throwing tens of thousands of good people out of work, and that's the importance of the mayor's proposal. It's just bad policy, and It could cost Denver millions of dollars and thousands of jobs."

Corry got no sense that the council was going to rush into a decision about marijuana clubs or other regulatory matters. "It sounds like they're going to be deliberate, just like they were a few years ago with medical marijuana," he says. "But they're going to have to come up with something by October of this year."

When they do, Corry encourages them not to follow Hancock's advice. "The mayor candidly admitted that his first instinct was to opt out of the constitution altogether," he allows, "but that's not a viable option in a city where 66 percent of voters approved of Amendment 64."

Look below to see Hancock's subcommittee appearance -- some of the key marijuana-club conversation takes place at around the fifteen minute mark -- and the two CNN clips featuring Corry talking about Club 64.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana: Dacono dispensaries don't see the new year" and "Colorado's first hash bars opening today."


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