Marijuana social club back open in Colorado Springs after panel grants appeal

By Garrison Wells Updated: February 21, 2014 at 8:24 am • Published: February 21, 2014 | 5:10 am 0

There was a smoke-filled celebration Thursday night at Studio A64.

Because it was allowed.

The Colorado Springs Planning Commission on Thursday approved an appeal by the private club's owner of a citation that said pot smoking was not allowed at the club under zoning regulations. A64 allows pot smoking, but does not sell marijuana.

"We did it!" A64 owner KC Stark said on the sidewalk outside City Hall, where he hugged his lawyer.

"There will be a heck of a celebration at the studio tonight."

True to his word, music blasted from the dimly lit cannabis club Thursday, which sits above a bar in a brick building at 332 E. Colorado Ave. People rolled up at the cannabis bar, ate complementary jelly beans, and went up on the "cannastage" for open-mic performances.

For Stark, Thursday was a celebration of culture, art, music, politics and liberty.

"We're the only brick-and-mortar that has won the battle," he said.

Stark called it a landmark decision.

The issue is far from over, however.

The city has 10 days to appeal the planning commission's 7-2 decision.

Meanwhile, the commission is likely to take a look at ordinances addressing pot smoking and zoning. The issue is expected to come up again since recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado and on Jan. 1 retail stores opened throughout the state, although no stores are open in the Pikes Peak region.

Colorado Springs prohibited retail sales of pot, but nearby cities including Manitou Springs, Denver and Pueblo are allowing sales. One or two shops in Manitou are expected to open in the spring.

"I think it needs to be addressed," said Jeffrey Markewich, planning commissioner.

Markewich was among the seven commissioners who voted in favor of the appeal. Against it were commissioners Robert Shonkwiler and John Henninger.

The Colorado Avenue club received a cease-and-desist order in November that said it had to close because it failed to meet downtown zoning requirements.

Stark appealed the ruling, contending A64 fit zoning regulations as a social club.

The zoning in the area is form-based code, which is among the most flexible in the city.

The hearing drew plenty of support, some of it emotional, from medical marijuana users.

No one spoke in opposition to the club.

Tim Cuyle celebrated at A64 Thursday night. He moved to Colorado Springs from Alabama six months ago for the medical marijuana.

"I was on 10 different medications. I weighed 260 pounds when I got here," said Cuyle, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Since arriving in the city, he said he's lost 100 pounds and is down to three medications. He said the club has given him a place to go.

"It's improved my quality of life," he said.

Cuyle, along with others, testified at the hearing Thursday. University of Colorado at Colorado Springs student Ingrid Henderson, who has PTSD, called A64 a "blessing."

The club is "a safe place for us to go and play as adults," she said.

Other supporters said the club isn't just a place to smoke pot. It also is an outlet for local artists, poets and musicians.

"It is a club in every sense of that word," said Charles Houghton, Stark's lawyer. "Smoking marijuana in the facility is ancillary to everything else that is going on."

A64, Houghton said, is no different from a VFW hall, Elks Club or Masonic Lodge.

Stark said the city has the opportunity to take the lead in how such clubs are regulated.

"We can do something here," he said. "We can show the world that Colorado Springs is smart."

One interested person watching how the issue was resolved was Robert Tillery, event organizer for Club 710, a Colorado Springs cannabis social club.

The group, which has 500 members, meets at a north Nevada Avenue hookah lounge.

"I was pretty interested to hear what they said," Tillery said. "My opinion is that it's a victory for our freedom of assembly rights. Colorado made marijuana legal; now legal adults can get together in a legal place and smoke legal cannabis."

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