A bill that would have set up a licensing system for cannabis consumption clubs was killed before it could pick up steam in the Colorado General Assembly. Introduced by Senator Vicki Marble, SB 211 was voted down by a Senate committee on Monday, April 2.
As proposed, the measure would have given municipalities and counties that allow retail cannabis sales the ability to license consumption clubs through the Colorado Department of Revenue and the state Marijuana Enforcement Division. Neither department supported the proposal, though. MED director Jim Burack testified against the bill at the hearing, as did reps of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Colorado State Patrol, Smart Colorado, American Heart Association and American Cancer Society.
Burack told lawmakers that the measure posed "significant enforcement challenges and health and safety risks" for his agency and the public, citing search-and-seizure issues if club members stored illegally obtained cannabis; he also argued that MED officials shouldn't have to distinguish what refreshments at clubs were or were not infused with cannabis. "This creates challenges for us," he said. "With [federal] oversight, we need to make sure we're cognizant."
CSP Major Steve Garcia, who'd testified against a House bill that would allow dispensaries to apply for tasting rooms during a March 19 committee hearing (that bill passed out of committee), again raised concerns about impaired driving. "This cascading responsibility creates a public-safety issue that adds additional liability and workload on law enforcement and the public," he told the Senate committee.
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A handful of unlicensed pot clubs have operated in Colorado Springs, Denver, Englewood and Nederland since Amendment 64 took effect in late 2012, taking advantage of a provision in 64 that allows private clubs and venues to be exempt from the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act and social consumption laws. However, those clubs report facing regular persecution from local law enforcement and regulatory agencies, and several of them have been shut down over the years for various violations.
Marble said she crafted the bill in hopes of deterring cannabis users from consuming in public, which is illegal in Colorado. She believes that closing the door on social pot clubs by voting down the bill, which the Senate also did last year, is hampering progress and safety. "They seem to have so many problems with this bill, but there weren't concerns on the House Bill 1258 that were really voiced," Marble said during the meeting of the MED's opposition to her proposal. "I'm just having a real hard time where you're just closing the door, saying 'no' on something that's an inevitable growth process."
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Burack responded by noting that the MED is neutral on HB 1258, the dispensary tasting-room bill, but added that HB 1258's "incremental approach" was more responsible to the public. Introduced by representatives Jonathan Singer and Jovan Melton, HB 1258 would allow dispensaries to adopt social tasting rooms while giving localities the option to create their own social consumption program, as Denver has done with the Cannabis Consumption Establishment program. (The House Appropriations committee will consider HB 1258 on April 6.)
Southern Colorado Cannabis Council lobbyist and medical marijuana patient David Wasserman told lawmakers that patients would benefit from social clubs, especially if they couldn't consume in their homes. "How is it safer for me to take three or four dabs in a tasting room and hop in my car on my way home from a dispensary," he asked, "as opposed to being able to safely consume in a cannabis club and watch a comedy show or do yoga while I feel out the potency of my medication?"
Despite testimony from Wasserman and several other medical marijuana patients and cannabis club owners from southern Colorado, the bill was shot down 6-1 by the Senate Business, Labor & Technology Committee. Senator Tim Neville, a co-sponsor of the bill, cast the only vote in favor of the measure. (Marble is not on that committee.)
The cannabis club bill wasn't the only piece of pot legislation heard by the committee. HB 1259, which Marble is also sponsoring, and which would allow certain pot business employees the right to sample products, had better luck: It passed 6-1 and is now on its way to the full Senate.