Cannabis consumption clubs still don’t have a future in Colorado Springs, despite a new law that paves the way for cities to keep allowing them.
The city’s existing clubs, which give people a place to use cannabis and socialize in private, have been given until March 22, 2024, to phase out operations. There are two licensed, Studio A64 and Speakeasy Vape Lounge; however, their licenses won’t be valid past that deadline, and the city isn’t issuing any more permits.
A state law passed last year created options for local licensing systems to allow the clubs past that sunset date and permit small amounts of cannabis to be sold there. But the Colorado Springs City Council on Monday opted against further study of those alternatives.
Council members Don Knight, Wayne Williams and David Geislinger said the issue isn’t worth the time and effort it would take to explore, given the many council's other priorities.
“I don’t believe that’s at the top of my list as a member of City Council. I don’t think it’s near the top,” Williams said. “I think there’s many more important things that we should be using our resources for.”
Council members Richard Skorman, Jill Gaebler and Bill Murray expressed support for the clubs, saying they would provide a safe place for adult cannabis use that the city could regulate.
Marijuana use "is here," Skorman said. "It’s not going away. We can make it safe. We can keep people off the street driving. Or we can just put our heads in the sand and say we’re never never going to cross this line...It’s really going to come back to bite us.”
The city's refusal to pursue options for cannabis clubs adds to Colorado Springs' anti-pot reputation. Under Amendment 64, passed by Colorado voters in 2012, recreational marijuana use is legal statewide. But the city banned sales under a local option contained in the state measure.
In 2019, the state General Assembly passed House Bill 1230, creating licensing structures for "marijuana hospitality establishments." One permited businesses where patrons bring their own marijuana to consume but not buy or sample it — as is currently the policy for Colorado Springs’ cannabis clubs, according to Mattie Gullixson, a senior regulatory compliance analyst for Mayor John Suther's Office. The other licensing structure allowed businesses to also sell small amounts of retail marijuana to customers to be used on the premise, Gullixson told the council at a Dec. 9 meeting.
Under the law, a local jurisdiction may authorize such establishments to operate through an ordinance or ballot measure, she said.
“This question is going to take months before it comes to a vote,” Knight said. He added that Suthers, a vocal opponent of recreational pot, would definitely veto any such ordinance. Six "yes" votes on the council would be needed to override that veto.
Knight walked out of the December meeting, where cannabis club proponents urged the city to implement the new licensing structure and approve the existing clubs as marijuana hospitality and sales establishments. The councilman expressed concern that speakers represented only one side of the issue because no one who addressed the council was opposed.
At Monday's meeting, Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC CEO Dirk Draper, Dr. Kenneth Finn and Coronado High School Principal Darin Smith spoke out against creating a new policy for the clubs.
Finn and Smith argued that any expansion of the industry would open the door for more marijuana use by youth.
"I think less access to our students — be it black market, grey market or legal — is better for Coronado High,” Smith said.
Skorman refuted the notion that cannabis clubs would lead to more kids using pot, instead arguing that they would give parents a safe place to consume cannabis away from their children. He said that the measure could save lives, and that the legislature had already done much of the vetting, saving city staff time.
But Williams disagreed.
“I don’t think this would save lives. I think it certainly has a greater likelihood of costing lives. You put people in a situation where they will be away from home, where they will be going back to,” Williams said. "The fact that the legislature made a decision to permit cities to permit this does not mean all the vetting is done."
Jason Warf, executive director of the Southern Colorado Cannabis Council, chalked up the arguments against cannabis clubs to the same anti-weed "propaganda" that "we've heard for 20 years" in Colorado.
"It’s really a matter of providing a feasible business model for these owners that have done their best to remain in good standing and provide a service to the citizens,” Warf, who works with Studio A64's ownership, told The Gazette after the meeting. "If we choose not to regulate, what we’re really doing is opening the door for further unregulated businesses to open up."
Murray expressed a similar sentiment during the meeting.
"If we don’t try to keep reasonable control of the situation, it will control us. And I think that’s what’s happening," Murray said.
The city’s Marijuana Working Group is looking into another new law, which took effect this month, that allows medical marijuana stores to deliver products with a local government's permission.