City Council votes to ban cannabis clubs, but the fight isn't over

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Tuesday afternoon, after a marathon public comment section, City Council voted to ban cannabis clubs in Colorado Springs, with clubs now in operation phasing out by March 2024. The 6-3 vote comes after years of deliberation over how to handle the clubs that provide a social setting to consume legal cannabis. Though many in attendance testified that the clubs are a place of community, refuge and healing, detractors see the clubs’ mere existence as flagrantly defying the previous Council’s decision to opt out of recreational sales following statewide legalization.  


The ordinance Council approved, which will get its final reading on March 22, sets up the framework for the ban. It prohibits the opening of any new Marijuana Consumption Club (MCC) — defined as “an establishment, organization, association, club, teapad, or other similar entity or place where a purpose is to allow the consumption of marijuana, medical marijuana or marijuana product on the premises” — but lets certain clubs stay open for now.


Of the approximately 15 existing clubs, only the ones “lawfully operating” prior to the moratorium beginning Sept. 22, 2015 get grandfathered status. What does “lawfully operating” mean? Well, Planning and Community Development Manager Peter Wysocki gets the final call, but there’s a set of criteria you can see here. The basic gist is a club had to have been operating according to the similar use determination Studio A64 was granted during a 2014 zoning violation appeal. That determination said a cannabis club is like a social club, which falls under the parent definition for membership clubs — zoned for multifamily residential, commercial and industrial zone districts.


So the clubs that fit that criteria will have to apply for license from the city by April 29 and comply with new rules that go with it. That includes a mandatory ventilation and filtration system, no sales/trades/reimbursements/whatever you want to call it, no entry for under-21s, no on-site cultivation and no operating between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m. Licensed clubs will have until 2024 years to recoup their investment, then close up shop. Councilor Tom Strand proposed the eight-year phase-out rather than the five years an earlier draft laid out.


Council voted 6-3 to pass this ordinance. Jill Gaebler, Bill Murray and Helen Collins were the three no votes.


Councilor Don Knight, who led the charge to ban clubs, explained that stamping out all things marijuana in Colorado Springs is exactly what he intends. "We are calling ourselves Olympic City USA; we are a military-friendly town,” Knight said. “Military does not allow it. Olympians, they get tested, so it’s not good for Olympians. It just doesn’t fit in the city.”


Veterans in attendance pushed back, arguing that the clubs do fit in a military city because cannabis can treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) like no pharmaceutical can.


During the lengthy and impassioned public input section, citizens defended the clubs as vital community centers, reminded Council that a majority of the city voted for Amendment 64 and decried the apparent all-out assault on anything cannabis related in the city.


The fight, it’s clear, is not over.


“Colorado Springs City Council's vote will not result in a ban on clubs,” industry lobbyist Jason Warf declared. “Our owners and the owners that I talked to have no plans to change, obtain a city license, or shut down. We are confident the owners will win in court and the end result will be a completely unregulated industry.”

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