Caiti Beckwith of Denver smokes a joint during the documentary "Reincarnated" at the Fillmore Auditorium in 2013. (Seth A. McConnell, Denver Post file)

Open letter: Why cannabis clubs in Colorado are a necessity, not a novelty

Opinion: We need more spaces to legally consume cannabis, and when a clear majority of Colorado voters support the idea of members-only marijuana clubs, what are we waiting for?

Dear Colorado state Rep. Jonathan Singer,

When reading your comments to The Denver Post on April 3rd, a particular statement jumped out at me for being profoundly progressive. “Eventually, we will see cannabis clubs similar to bars,” you noted as almost a throwaway before moving on to the subject of local bans. While most legislators and municipalities have sought to thwart private clubs at every step, I commend you for admitting what we all know is true: Cannabis users deserve a home, particularly a home away from home.

The status quo is woefully inadequate, forcing marijuana enthusiasts to consume in tobacco shops like the iBake Lounge (breathing in legitimately harmful secondhand smoke) or private clubs that operate in gray areas of the law. Tickets for public consumption are skyrocketing, in part because tourists face potential fines from their hotel if it even looks like they may have toked up inside their rooms. In a city in the midst of a near-historic housing crisis, Denver residents risk eviction for using a legal substance simply because they rent instead of own.

Much like the former Rocky Flats plant (or the Colorado Rockies, for that matter), it’s terrible for the image of our state.

My terrible Rockies joke aside, Colorado residents seem to agree with me, according to The Cannabist’s informal poll from last week. Looking for more statistically valid reasoning? A Quinnipiac poll revealed in July 2014 that 66 percent of Colorado voters support cannabis use in members-only clubs. Even the Westboro Baptist Church runs out of things to protest once in a while. If we are truly regulating marijuana like alcohol, it seems there’s even a template to work from.

Bars have restrictions on hours and the distance they can be from places like schools, both reasonable for marijuana clubs, too. They’re also the targets of frequent stings to make sure the proprietors aren’t selling to minors or serving up their own bootleg hooch. The primary difference in my eyes would be what they’re allowed to sell.

Clubs shouldn’t be in the business of supplying marijuana products — or booze, for that matter — to patrons. Whether it’s espresso or expressionism, they’ll have to figure out their own financial model. Owners would also be responsible for ensuring they weren’t harboring black market activity or sending people out of their doors in a way that could endanger the public. And that’s where I assume most of the debate comes in.

We trust people to enter bars with the understanding that if they drink too much, they’ll rely on a designated driver, call a buddy, a cab or one of the fifty ride-sharing companies to pick them up. While the level of legal impairment varies from state to state, marijuana often is treated as a zero-tolerance drug. Even the FDA doesn’t agree with that, noting that Marinol (essentially synthetic THC available via prescription) is safe to drive or operate heavy machinery under the influence of once users understand how to “tolerate the drug and to perform such tasks safely.”

When it comes to stoned driving, the statistics are up for debate, but there are ways for people who use marijuana to drive themselves home safely — not unlike having a glass of wine with dinner or a beer at a show. The state legislature has said as much.

The fact is, there are legal impairment standards for all drivers here in Colorado, set at 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. As bars can be held liable for drunk drivers in cases where they’ve been over served, so too should club employees who let someone clearly intoxicated jump behind the wheel. Clubs would give people a safe place to consume, sure, but also to hang out until they’re able to drive. Training staff in how to spot severe cases of inebriation could actually help save lives in the rare cases where marijuana is the sole contributing factor to an accident. In fact, there’s plenty of good that could come from a more normalized marijuana experience.

The first time I made edibles, one cookie was enough to ruin the days of four men and we were forced to close the dispensary. Manufacturers have made great strides since then (and I’ve stopped baking altogether), but people who are unfamiliar could use guidance after they’ve left the store from someone who can spend more time with them in a one-on-one situation. Clubs could also provide vaporizing devices for those who don’t want to shell out big bucks for one, only to abandon their new toy before their flight home. And I know a few parents who would love a place to enjoy a joint without having to worry about Child Protective Services showing up at their door asking about “that smell.”

When visiting Amsterdam last fall, I found the coffee shop experience to be one of the revelations. (Also: the fries.) Meeting people from around the world and hearing their experiences with cannabis helped inform my own. A passionate couple from Spain talked to me at length about what strains work for them, both of whom suffer from Crohn’s Disease. A twenty-something from Illinois gave me his exhaustive list of places I had to see before I left. At other times, just having a quiet corner of the bustling city to myself while I sat and reflected on my trip (and high) was all I needed. I’d love to see that come to Colorado.

If cannabis clubs are truly inevitable, we owe it to residents and visitors to figure out how they’ll be regulated sooner rather than later. Until then, we’ll continue to subject responsible adults to this Catch-22, and no one benefits from that.

So Rep. Singer, I appreciate your progressive approach on the likelihood of cannabis clubs in Colorado — and I look forward to any future work on the issue.

Sincerely,

Jake Browne