DENVER — The Colorado Senate on Thursday passed a first-in-the-nation bill expressly permitting marijuana clubs. But Gov. John Hickenlooper is hinting that he’ll veto the measure unless it bans indoor smoking.
The bill allows local jurisdictions to permit bring-your-own pot clubs, as long as those establishments don’t serve alcohol or any food beyond light snacks.
The bill doesn’t say whether those clubs could allow people to smoke pot indoors. That means it would be possible for a membership club that is closed to the public and has no more than three employees to permit indoor pot smoking.
Sponsors say the bill is necessary because Colorado already has a network of underground, unregulated pot clubs, and towns aren’t sure how to treat them.
Pot clubs could help alleviate complaints that Colorado’s sidewalks and public parks have been inundated with pot smokers since the state legalized recreational weed in 2012.
“We have a lot of problems throughout this state of people publicly using marijuana,” said Sen. Bob Gardner, a Colorado Springs Republican and sponsor of the club bill.
The measure sets up a showdown with the Democratic governor, who has told reporters that clubs could invite federal intervention in Colorado’s pot market.
Colorado is in violation of federal drug law for not making it a crime to smoke pot, and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other members of the Trump administration have said states should not be able to legalize pot.
“I do think given the uncertainty in Washington that this is not the year to be out there carving off new turf and expand markets and make dramatic statements about marijuana,” Hickenlooper told reporters Wednesday.
Further, the governor seemed to chafe at the fact that the club bill doesn’t expressly ban indoor smoking. A separate pot-club measure going into effect in Denver limits smoking marijuana to special patios, meaning people could eat or vaporize pot indoors but not burn it.
“Smoking is bad for you,” Hickenlooper said. “I’m not sure that’s a great thing to be encouraging.”
Lawmakers who support clubs disagree that the bill encourages indoor smoking.
“These marijuana membership clubs are so private that’s they’re more akin to being in your living room than to being in a restaurant,” Gardner said.
Ten Republicans voted against the pot club bill. Some of them said they fear it’ll be impossible to stop people from sharing or selling weed inside the clubs, even though marijuana sales in clubs are banned under the bill.
“How are we supposed to stop that?” asked Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley.
The bill passed on a 25-10 vote and now heads to the House, where its prospects are strong. One possible sticking point is that the bill bars food service in the clubs but allows them to sell light snacks that aren’t defined.
State liquor regulations already bar the sale of alcohol and marijuana at the same place, so the clubs would look more like Amsterdam coffee shops than pot bars.
“I’m sure you can drink coffee and smoke marijuana, you just can’t drink whiskey and smoke marijuana,” Gardner said.
AP writer James Anderson contributed to this report.