Local Marijuana Wars Heating Up Pro-Cannabis Club Petition Drive Launched Rick Langenberg

Weed_Wars_Logo

The fight to save pot clubs in the Pikes Peak region is alive and well.

Following a recent volatile Colorado Springs City Council meeting, capped by a standing room-only crowd and much heated debate, eight businesses have banded together and started a petition drive to reverse the council’s anti-cannabis club verdict. This earlier 6-3 council decision basically made it illegal for cannabis clubs to operate and gave current marijuana club businesses a number of years to shut down. And no new marijuana clubs could get licensed, with a permanent ban imposed.

However, this action has raised the ire of current marijuana business owners in the area, who have questioned the legality of the Colorado Springs Council action.

The People’s Social Alliance has until April 21 to collect 14,649 signatures by registered voters. If successful, the council has the option of either altering their earlier decision by accepting the Social Alliance’s requested ordinance change, or to hold a special election within 90 days of the validation of the petition signatures.

Cannabis clubs charge a membership fee and then give members “free cannabis, soda drinks, candy and other refreshments,” according to pot club operators. They refer to these outlets as a place for members to gather, socialize, hang out and even watch sporting events. They started cropping up following the approval of Amendment 64, the state ballot issue that legalized recreational use of marijuana for adults on a limited basis. This law, however, banned the drug’s use in a public area, such as parks and community areas. As a result, private pot clubs emerged as a place for people to smoke reefer and hang out, since public usage was prohibited.

But critics, including law enforcement officials, say pot club proponents are trying to creatively bypass the restrictions imposed by Amendment 64. This law gave municipalities and counties the right to ban retail marijuana outlets in their jurisdictions. And this is exactly what the city of Colorado Springs and most governments in the Pikes Peak region have done. Besides the Colorado Springs City Council, bans against recreational marijuana outlets in local jurisdictions have been issued by the El Paso County Commissioners, the Woodland Park City Council, the Teller County Commissioners and other governments in the area. Manitou Springs is one of the few exceptions, with elected leaders in that community agreeing to issue two licenses for recreational marijuana outlets.

Cannabis clubs, though, are part of the gray area the current pro-marijuana law that hasn’t been fully addressed. Many of these clubs are located in west side of Colorado Springs.

Cannabis club operators say they are under assault by anti-marijuana lawmakers who refuse to accept the sentiments of Colorado voters. And contrary to some reports, they contend these clubs are extremely popular. “There are a lot of us,” said Anthony Robison, president of People’s Social Alliance, who also owns My Club 420, according to a report in The (Colorado Springs) Gazette. He has cited a group goal of collecting 35,000 signatures on their petition drive. “We have very many supporters. I was surprised by the number we came up with.”

Some elected leaders actually hope the group is successful with their petition, as they want to see the issue be determined by the voters. Opinions are strong on both sides of the issue. “They made their (pot) clubs,” blasted Councilman Keith King. “Council came back and started to regulate them and has a right to shut them down,” he added.

The marijuana clubs, however, have survived most legislative hurdles until a recent Springs Council decision that surprised many government observers.
If the Alliance group is successful, it would mark the first time in nearly 20 years that an ordinance challenge has occurred in Colorado Springs with a special election.

The situation is being closely watched by government officials in Teller County and throughout the Pikes Peak region. Most votes on bans against recreational marijuana outlets have been extremely close, with some arguing that local governments are giving up a huge potential treasure chest of tax revenue with these prohibitions. Plus, these restrictions can be reversed by either a vote by elected leaders or by a vote of the citizens.

Besides a pro-pot club petition drive, interest has developed in doing a city-wide campaign that could force the issue of legalizing recreational outlets to be decided by the voters in Colorado Springs, instead of the city council. That has occurred in many smaller cities, but not in a city the size of Colorado Springs.