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Colorado Springs City Council bans marijuana clubs, setting 8-year phase-out

March 8, 2016 Updated: March 9, 2016 at 2:16 pm
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photo - Clois Power smokes a joint inside the StudioA64 smoking lounge in this 2014 file photo. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Clois Power smokes a joint inside the StudioA64 smoking lounge in this 2014 file photo. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct information.

Note: Scroll down in this article to vote in our poll. Should marijuana clubs be banned in Colorado Springs?

The Colorado Springs City Council enacted a ban on cannabis consumption clubs Tuesday night, after 70 people waited up to six hours to testify in support of the clubs.

The vote was 6-3, with council members Helen Collins, Jill Gaebler and Bill Murray dissenting.

Councilman Tom Strand amended the original plan, which would have given the clubs five years to phase out their operations. Instead, they'll get eight years and must close by March 22, 2024.

They'll also have to pay to be licensed through the City Clerk's Office, as medical marijuana and liquor establishments are. The vote on those two mandates was 7-2, with only Collins and Murray in opposition.

Councilman Keith King, after upbraiding a speaker who used the "F" word and another who called council members "dictators," nonetheless recommended a resolution be written to protect club owners from problems with leases they might have to abandon "because of government action." He also urged cannabis club supporters to organize and get an initiative on the ballot to try to save their social communities.

With few exceptions, the public comments were respectful, including from 11 people who testified first in favor of the ban.

Some misinformation came from a couple of those speakers, including a representative for the Council of Neighbors and Organizations. They referred to a vote against "recreational marijuana in the city."

Under Amendment 64, recreational marijuana use is legal statewide. Only retail sales were banned in the city by a previous council.

A primary concern among many council members, police and fire officials was what they view as the flaunting of that ordinance, as many clubs charged "membership dues" or collected "donations" in trade for marijuana.

Police Chief Pete Carey said marijuana found in Kansas was traced back to a Colorado Springs cannabis club, underscoring his concerns about illegal sales, transport and diversion of marijuana.

But club supporters spoke passionately about veterans with PTSD being deterred from suicide, and cancer patients and others also finding relief through use of cannabis among like-minded people in what one described as "cannabis community centers" rather than clubs.

Councilman Don Knight initially proposed the ban after constituents called him with concerns about a cannabis club opening in a strip mall in their neighborhood. Had the ban failed, the council was expected to let the clubs operate only in industrial zones.

Murray and Knight reportedly are the only council members who took the clubs up on their offer to visit and scrutinize operations. Owners of the 15 or so local clubs also noted that their industry representatives weren't allowed to participate on a task force.

"If there's no dialogue," asked Gail Olsen, "how can you find a solution?"

Most speakers were chiefly concerned with losing a legal place to use their medicine while enjoying support and camaraderie. Public use of marijuana is illegal in Colorado.

"These cannabis clubs give our veterans access to use their medicine in a safe environment," said Sara Hempster, Colorado president of Grow for Vets. "If you ban these clubs, where will they go? Landlords do not allow cannabis consumption.

"Fifty-five veterans a day commit suicide. And cannabis is the safest medicine that everyone needs, especially our veterans who serve and come home so broken that they want to kill themselves."

Many veterans, with PTSD and other disabilities, testified that the clubs "saved my life" by getting them out of isolation and depression.

A couple of speakers taunted council members, saying they couldn't understand what it's like to serve in the military. All the council members are veterans, however, having served in the Army, Navy or Air Force.

"We save lives," said Daniel Goodman, owner of the Dab Lounge, delivering a sheaf of signatures to the council.

The Rev. Patrick Partridge promised a recall if a ban were enacted. " ... you leave us no choice but recall petitions. ... because you follow along with your mayor. Guess what? He's going to be recalled too."

Jayman Johnson, owner of the Speakeasy Vape Lounge and Cannabis Club, repeatedly was praised by club-goers for his support and kindness toward people in pain and need.

Asked after the meeting what he would do, Johnson said, "I'll take Keith King's seat. I live in his district."

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