Cannabis Club Showdown Looms Between Colorado Governor, Lawmakers

Published on March 21, 2017 · Last updated July 28, 2020

DENVER (AP) — Colorado lawmakers moved closer Monday to a showdown with the governor over cannabis clubs.

A House committee voted 8-3 to approve a bill giving local governments a roadmap to allowing private marijuana clubs. The clubs could allow indoor smoking, if they have fewer than three employees.

“The goal here is to give folks a space where they can consume” marijuana, said Rep. Dan Pabon, a Denver Democrat and sponsor of the bill.

The bill also has Republican supporters who say clubs would keep cannabis smoking out of parks and other public areas. It has already passed the GOP Senate.

But Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper told reporters recently that he opposes the cannabis club bill if it allows indoor smoking.

He said it’s a bad idea to invite attention to Colorado as a new president takes office and sends mixed messages about whether state marijuana experiments will be allowed to continue.

Anti-smoking activists say the bill could send the signal that smoking inside is OK, even under limited circumstances.

“Smoking is bad for you — very bad for you,” Hickenlooper said earlier this month.

Sponsors counter that the clubs would still be subject to the Clean Indoor Air Act, which bans indoor smoking unless the establishment has no more than three employees. The bill bars the clubs from serving food beyond pre-packages snacks or coffee; state liquor code bars any club from selling alcohol.

Pabon and other supporters repeatedly mentioned indoor smoking during testimony Monday. Colorado already has a patchwork of private cannabis clubs, but the law is unclear about whether cannabis clubs are OK and many existing clubs are word-of-mouth “smokeasies.”

“We have at best a piecemeal approach to public consumption,” Pabon argued.

But anti-smoking activists oppose the bill, saying it could send the signal that smoking inside is OK, even under limited circumstances.

Bob Doyle of the American Lung Association warned that Colorado is “opening a Pandora’s Box” if it opens the door to statewide cannabis clubs.

No other marijuana state has regulated cannabis clubs, though underground cannabis-sharing clubs exist even in states where the plant remains illegal. Voters in California and Maine last year approved legalization measures that allow for social consumption but regulations in those states are still being worked out.

Colorado’s cannabis club bill awaits a vote by the full House, though sponsors hint that amendments are likely, meaning the bill would have to return to the Senate before hitting the governor’s desk.

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