Colorado Pot Clubs Bill Passes Committee, Moves to Senate

Colorado was the first state in the country to allow the purchase of recreational cannabis. Now it could be the first to allow consumption in "pot clubs."

Senate Bill 184, titled Private Marijuana Clubs Open and Public Use, would allow local municipalities to authorize privately owned marijuana clubs, and the proposal crossed the first hurdle this week. After a hearing that took more than three hours, the Republican-held state Senate's Business, Labor and Technology Committee approved the bill in a bipartisan five-to-two vote.

The no votes came from senators Tim Neville and Jim Smallwood, Republicans from Littleton and Parker, respectively. The bill now makes its way to the Senate floor.

While Neville did not vote for SB 184, he is not opposed to the idea of consumption clubs. Earlier this year he voiced support for Senate Bill 63, which would have provided even more leeway for venues, allowing marijuana consumption at establishments where recreational marijuana is also sold (it would have prohibited products from leaving the club). But that proposal failed in a 6-1 vote on March 1; Neville was the only senator who supported it.

Many Denver-based entrepreneurs are expected to jump at the opportunity to open marijuana clubs; Denver voters passed Initiative 300 last November, which allows local businesses to register for marijuana to be used on their premises with approval from their neighborhood organizations.

Under Amendment 64, approved by voters in 2012, it's illegal to consume marijuana in public, including "indoor but public" locations such as bars and restaurants.

SB 184 would not change those restrictions, but instead would institute private marijuana clubs, "a membership-based club not accessible to the general public that operates to allow members to consume retail or medical marijuana on the premises," the proposal states.

It is illegal under Amendment 64 for marijuana to be smoked or consumed where it is purchased, and this legislation would not change that. Authorized clubs would be prohibited from selling marijuana, food or alcohol to patrons, but attendees could bring their own.

Also included in the bill is the ability for any jurisdiction to ban pot clubs, just as any jurisdiction has the right to prohibit recreational marijuana sales under current law.

Colorado Springs, for example, does not allow recreational sales, but it is also home to the state's only currently open marijuana club, Studio A64, named in honor of Amendment 64. Founded in 2013, Studio A64 reopened last month under new management and operates in a legal limbo: People pay membership dues to the club and can acquire a small amount of marijuana on the premises as part of a reimbursement program.

Colorado Springs City Council has put a moratorium on any new marijuana clubs opening in city limits.

Supporters of the legislation hope SB 184 will benefit the tourists who come to Colorado, purchase marijuana and then have nowhere to go to use it. Hotels still prohibit smoking on their premises, it's illegal to smoke in public, and you can't take marijuana on airplanes or across state lines. This proposal would allow Colorado to set up clubs similar to those in Amsterdam. (Although California and other states where medical marijuana is legal have informal patient clubs, Colorado's would be the first official businesses.)

SB 184 was not the only marijuana-related bill to make it through committee this week.

The Business, Labor and Technology Committee passed other Republican-sponsored marijuana policy bills designed to increase public safety and create workforce pathways.

House Bill 1034 would change current law and allow marijuana businesses to move their product across the state instead of being restricted within each county.

Senate Bill 187 would allow non-residents to apply for occupational marijuana licenses; it's moving on to a vote in the Committee on Appropriations.
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Kate McKee Simmons interned at the National Catholic Reporter, was a reporter for the New York Post, and spent a brief stint in Israel learning international reporting before writing for Westword.