New Twist in Colorado Marijuana Debate: Why Not Allow Pot Clubs

July 11, 2016

Legal marijuana is giving Colorado a stinky conundrum. Visitors can buy the drug, but they can’t use it in public. Or in a rental car. Or in most hotel rooms.

The result is something marijuana advocates and opponents feared — people toking up on sidewalks, in city parks and in alleys behind bars and restaurants — despite laws against doing so. And they’re getting dinged with public marijuana consumption tickets.

From the capital city of Denver to mountain resorts like Aspen and Breckenridge, police wrote nearly 800 citations in for the new crime of public consumption in 2014, the first year recreational sales began.

Some legalization advocates believe they have a solution — pot clubs. Denver voters may consider a ballot measure this fall to expressly allow pot clubs.

But marijuana clubs have proven a harder sell here than legalizing the drug in the first place.

The amendment that legalized marijuana doesn’t give people the right to use it “openly or publicly.” But Colorado’s constitution doesn’t ban public use either, leading to a confusing patchwork of local policies on weed clubs.

Denver and Colorado Springs have existing pot clubs, but the clubs operate somewhat underground with occasional police busts.

The small northern Colorado town of Nederland regulates a club that advertises, “out of state, out of country, and of course locals are welcome.”

Things are more complicated in the Denver suburb of Englewood, where city council members were apparently taken by surprise that the city had licensed a pot club. They then voted 7-0 last month to allow no more clubs.

No other states with legal recreational pot have licensed clubs. Alaska’s Marijuana Control Board voted last year to repeal an explicit ban on social marijuana clubs, but the state hasn’t yet finished work on the potential to allow for people to use pot at certain stores that sell marijuana.

Law enforcement officials have said the clubs could lead to more impaired driving, though there’s no evidence that existing underground clubs have been linked to traffic accidents or crime.

Others worry that pot clubs would further encourage minors to try the drug.

Marijuana activists trying to get a club measure on Denver ballots say pot skeptics should welcome clubs for just that reason.

“You don’t want it in your face? Great. Let’s get it off the street,” said Jordan Person, head of Denver NORML, which is backing the ballot measure. “We’re not going to put more people on the road high. They’re already there, probably driving while they use it. So this is better than that.”

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