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Local stakeholders meeting addresses concerns beyond clubs



Jaymen Johnson represented Speak Easy Vape Lounge at the meeting. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Jaymen Johnson represented Speak Easy Vape Lounge at the meeting.

On Thursday, Sept. 10, Rep. Kit Roupe, R-Colorado Springs, hosted a public stakeholders meeting to discuss legislating a license for cannabis clubs. The crowd included lawyers, industry leaders, police, lobbyists, Pueblo County employees and more. Here are the highlights, in case you missed it.

The core issue, as the assembly eventually divined, is that certain cannabis clubs in the Springs are all-but-in-name selling recreational weed, despite the city-wide ban on recreational dispensaries. Right now, though, these clubs appear to be operating in the legal clear. Denver attorney Robert Corry read from a copy of Amendment 64 that transferring marijuana between adults, and growing on another's behalf are fine, as well as assisting with these and other permitted acts as long as there is no payment. His concern with the bill presented, which would ban cannabis clubs from providing marijuana in any context, is that it contradicts Amendment 64's provision allowing adults to gift or exchange marijuana freely.

As it is, cannabis clubs comply with this part of Amendment 64 by asking for reimbursement for growing on customers' behalf or by selling points that can be redeemed for marijuana. Some clubs stick to small servings, pricing individual dabs, pre-rolled joints and blunts or small quantities of flower. Other clubs advertise prices per half-ounce and ounce. Most don't allow members to take what they get from the club home, but a few do.

Corry argued that these clubs are not allowed to profit through the reimbursement model. But several asked where the line between reimbursement and remuneration lies, with no clear answers given. So they beat the system. Good for them. Who cares?

Studio A64 owner KC Stark clearly does. Other clubs exploiting legal gray areas bring negative attention to his business — he repeatedly explained to all present that he has no interest in selling marijuana from his club. He suggests that clubs with a strict BYOB policy should be licensed as cigar bars, like his own. Clubs that want to provide weed would have to be licensed as dispensaries, he said.

Richard Kwesell of Strawberry Fields Alternative Health and Wellness also cares. He's frustrated that he had to spend tens of thousands of dollars and many staff-hours to be a legitimate dispensary, but there are no legal consequences for gray-area clubs. They aren't subjected to the extreme scrutiny conventional weed businesses are. Also, the state gets no tax dollars from club transactions.

As Corry noted, clubs can technically grow on behalf of members, but there is no legal structure for overseeing this. Corry said patrons could verbally agree to let a club grow on their behalf and it would be legitimate. But CSPD Vice and Narcotics officer Lt. Mark Comte said no statute prevents a person from promising growing rights to multiple clubs. And while medical marijuana growers can only grow for five patients, recreational growers can grow for unlimited patients.

What can change this?

Roupe's bill would, among other things, bring cannabis clubs under the jurisdiction of the Marijuana Enforcement Division, which could penalize violators of Amendment 64, her self-described "blunt instrument" approach to the issue. Comte suggested barring clubs from storing marijuana on-site. Joan Armstrong from Pueblo County read her county's zoning-focused approach, which includes a local license for cannabis clubs, a Board of Alcohol and Cannabis to enforce any measures the county passes, and clear standards for legitimacy.

At the end of the meeting, Corry dismissed the idea that any cannabis business could call itself legitimate without the federal government changing its laws against marijuana. But Speak Easy Vape Lounge owner Jaymen Johnson disagreed. In an impassioned closing comment, he stated that legitimacy, transparency and proper licensing on the local and state levels is the only means Colorado cannabis businesspeople have to convince the rest of the country that legalization is viable.

Correction: September 16, 2015
An earlier version of this article misstated the surname of the Denver attorney cited. His name is Robert Corry, not Khourey. 

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