On Friday, June 27, several Denver police officers entered Maryjane's 420 Shop and Social Club, at 539 West 43rd Avenue, and issued citations to some of its members. The club has been closed ever since and comments from his spokesperson suggest that Denver Mayor Michael Hancock would like it to stay that way.
The debate over whether or not marijuana social clubs are allowed under Colorado law has been raging since well before limited legal recreational sales launched on January 1.
In April 2013, as we've reported, 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.
At the session, Hancock framed his objections to marijuana clubs around the issuing of driving while stoned. He maintained that cops had 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.
"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."
The city council ultimately embraced Hancock's position. But marijuana advocate and attorney Rob Corry called the policy "blatantly unconstitutional" and pushed the envelope on the concept via Club 64, which he touted on CNN back in January as Denver's first pot club. January videos touting the venue are on view below as well.
Rob Corry with Club 64 co-owner Chloe Villano at the venue's grand opening.
Against this backdrop, Maryjane's opened on May 1, and before long, the city got wind of the operation.
"The city's number-one goal is to ensure compliance," Hancock spokeswoman Amber Miller told us. "We notified Maryjane's that they were in violation, and we followed up the next week, but they continued on."
Until last month, that is.
Club patrons who spoke with Westword say five plainclothes Denver Police Department officers walked into Maryjane's at around 9:30 p.m. and signed up for memberships to the club. Shortly thereafter, the security guard stationed at the door of the club took a short break, during which two uniformed officers and one more in plain clothes issued several citations in a raid of the club -- although the DPD objects to that description.
Public Information Officer Sonny Jackson says officers did not "raid" Maryjane's. Rather, they were "enforcing the law.
"We consulted the city attorney and were given assurance that it was not a private club," Jackson adds. He believes the proprietors of Maryjane's were also in violation of the Colorado Indoor Clean Air Act, which states "Tobacco Smoke in most indoor areas open to the public, public meetings, food service establishments, and places of employment" is illegal.
Maryjane's has a sign on it's front door saying "NO CIGARS OR CIGARETTES INDOORS". However, the act states "Tobacco also includes 'cloves and any other plant matter or product that is packaged for smoking.'"
The owners of Maryjane's declined to comment on the situation. But Andrew Overall, a member of Maryjane's for the last two months, says he was getting ready to load his friend a dab when a plainclothes officer grabbed his glass piece and forced him outside. He says two other visiting members from out of state were also briefly held and given citations.
"The officer told us they weren't sending anybody to jail," Overall recalls. "But he did say they were trying to send a message to the owners of the club."
Overall says he was given a "non-criminal penalty assessment" -- a citation about which neither he nor attorney Corry are familiar.
Corry offered to represent Overall for free after hearing about his citation at Maryjane's. He maintains that discrimination and intimidation are the real roots of the police department's actions. If Maryjane's members were from another side of town, he thinks the consequences would've been different.
"I don't know why Denver treats the symphony in a completely different manner, other than the obvious," Corry says. "The social club serves minorities and the working class."
A photo from the Colorado Symphony Orchestra's inaugural "Classically Cannabis" event.
Photo by William Breathes
Corry is referencing the Colorado Symphony Orchestra's "Classically Cannabis: The High Notes Series," in which attendees are allowed to bring their own pot and consume it in designated areas. The concerts were changed to invitation-only so the events weren't considered public, and no arrests or citations were issued during the first event on May 23.
That has Corry scratching his head.
"I could've gone to the symphony's event without being a member of the symphony and smoked marijuana," he says. "And [Maryjane's] is a private, indoor property. You can't even see through the windows."
Corry says the Denver City Attorney's Office owes the taxpayers an explanation, and he wants to protect private clubs like Maryjane's because "we have almost 100 shops to legally buy marijuana yet nowhere to legally consume it."
Representatives of the City Attorney's office have not yet responded to inquiries from Westword. If and when they do, we'll update this post. In the meantime, the State of Colorado's web page, "Retail Marijuana Use Within the City of Denver," provides some guidelines for cannabis consumption, although observers on both sides of the social-club issue argue that the laws only create a gray area.
Here's an excerpt:
Retail marijuana is intended for private, personal use. Such use is only legal in certain locations not open or accessible to the public. Marijuana may not be consumed openly or publicly...This includes but is not limited to areas accessible to the public such as transportation facilities, schools, amusement/sporting/music venues, parks, playgrounds, sidewalks and roads and outdoor and rooftop cafes. It is also illegal to smoke at indoor-but-public locations like bars, restaurants and common areas in buildings.
The definition of "public" is a contentious point between city officials and cannabis advocates. Members of the club insist it was private, and indeed, trade name documents filed by Maryjane's with the Colorado Secretary of State describe the business as "a private social club." But mayor's office spokeswoman Miller says Maryjane's was indeed a public business.
"Some of the reasons among others of why this business is breaking the law is because it advertises to the general public, is open to the public through a cover charge, and the primary purpose of the venue is to consume marijuana," Miller notes via e-mail.
"Amendment 64 allowed for the creation of four types of retail marijuana businesses (retail stores, grow facilities, infused product manufacturing and testing)," she goes on, "and marijuana clubs or coffee shops is not one of them."
NORML -- the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws -- would like to change that. In December, the Colorado branch announced that changing laws to allow for pot clubs was among the group's top priorities -- a point reiterated by executive director Allen St. Pierre last month in an interview about the opening of NORML's first state office here.
"This is a totally dysfunctional system, and even though some people think establishing places where people can consume encourages more use, I don't think it does," St. Pierre allowed at the time. "It just says adults want to use cannabis legally in a social, quasi-public setting."
Look below to see Hancock's 2013 Denver City council 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.
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