- J.R. Armendariz
- The Dab Lounge after the recent raid.
On Nov. 2 and 3, police with the multi-jurisdictional Metro Vice, Narcotics and Intelligence Division executed search warrants at both of the Dab Lounge's Colorado Springs locations, as well as at the home of the cannabis clubs' owner. The clubs, neither of which have a "marijuana consumption club" license, which is required by the city, are now closed. The move comes amid a multi-faceted legal battle over whether private spaces dedicated to the social consumption of marijuana are legal.
The enforcement actions were part of "an ongoing criminal investigation," Commander Sean Mandel of the VNI unit confirmed. That means they weren't associated with or triggered by any development in the concurrent civil case, also brought by the city. In that case, a judge found certain clubs, including the Dab Lounge, in "contempt of court" for failure to obey a previous cease and desist order issued by the city. That ruling came down this spring, but it's been business as usual ever since.
According to city spokesperson Jamie Fabos, code enforcement officers helped physically secure the clubs during the busts. About the stalled civil litigation, she said via email, "The city will proceed based on rulings in the ongoing case to ensure all properties are in compliance with City Code and Ordinances."
The local law establishing business licensure for the clubs prohibits the "reimbursement" model (e.g. patrons pay to enter as members and can make donations that give them credit toward cannabis products provided by the club) and mandates that the clubs close within eight years. That's why most club owners opted not to apply for the license — it cripples their ability to make money before shuttering them for good.
When Colorado Springs City Council passed that ordinance last year, about a dozen clubs sued the city, arguing it violated their constitutional rights to assemble and consume cannabis in private. That suit failed for procedural reasons.
No arrests were made during the search of the Dab Lounge's locations, at 1532 N. Circle Drive and 125 N. Spruce St., according to Mandel, but property was seized as evidence. No charges have been filed and the Dab Lounge locations were the only clubs police visited that day. Mandel confirmed that CSPD is working with other agencies on this case, but wouldn't specify which ones or whether they're federal.
John Brown, a volunteer manager at the club's newly opened Spruce Street location, described witnessing the raid: Uniformed CSPD officers who identified as SWAT entered the building and confiscated cellphones, laptops and cash; changed the locks; confiscated keys, and then turned off their body-worn cameras. That's when Brown says he saw additional authorities in ski masks enter the building.
This isn't the first time a Springs cannabis club has been searched but not charged with a crime. It happened in January 2016 at Lazy Lion and this past May at Hoppz' Cropz and Family Joint. No arrests were made then either.
After the May operations, Mandel indicated that if charges were brought, they'd likely relate to use of the "gifting model" (e.g. you buy a lighter for $30 and get an eighth of weed for free). The practice is illegal under both state and local law and one local head shop, Hoppz' Cropz was recently indicted for it. The Dab Lounge used the reimbursement model. Members could also bring their own product.
"In my heart this was purely a performance space and a safe place to smoke marijuana," Brown says, noting many patients are renters in homes where the owner prohibits smoking.
The clubs' owner, Dan Goodman, vows to continue operations at one of the locations, though as of this writing both spaces remained closed. "We're going to fight this every step of the way," he told the Independent, adding that a criminal case will allow him to continue his efforts.
"Just because the city comes up with weird ordinances that conflict with state laws, doesn't mean we're going to follow them," he says. Amendment 64, which legalized recreational cannabis sales in Colorado, doesn't fully address social consumption, other than to say all consumption must be done in private. Legislation regarding cannabis clubs failed during the 2017 Colorado legislative session.
Goodman also says a SWAT team searched his home early Nov. 3, confiscating items that included his personal vehicle, his roommate's vehicle and $1,000 in rent money. He was taken into police custody for failing to appear for a traffic ticket. CSPD spokesperson Howard Black confirmed the search happened but not the property seized.
Now out of jail, Goodman says he intends to apply for an alcohol license to keep the Dab Lounge open as a comedy club at the Circle location. He also says he might "take [the business] it to another city where they actually appreciate our support," he says.