Pictured: Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper talks with legislators after his State of the State address at the Capitol on Jan. 12, 2017. He is now ready to be at odds with some of those legislators over pot club regulation. (Andy Cross, Denver Post file)

Colorado pot clubs bill passes through House committee, showdown with governor likely

DENVER — Colorado lawmakers moved closer Monday to a showdown with the governor over pot clubs.

A House committee voted 8-3 to approve a bill giving local governments a roadmap to allowing private marijuana clubs. The clubs could allow indoor smoking, if they have fewer than three employees.

“The goal here is to give folks a space where they can consume” marijuana, said Rep. Dan Pabon, a Denver Democrat and sponsor of the bill.

The bill also has Republican supporters who say clubs would keep pot smoking out of parks and other public areas. It has already passed the GOP Senate.

But Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper told reporters recently that he opposes the pot club bill if it allows indoor smoking.

He said it’s a bad idea to invite attention to Colorado as a new president takes office and sends mixed messages about whether state pot experiments will be allowed to continue.

“Smoking is bad for you — very bad for you,” Hickenlooper said earlier this month.

Sponsors counter that the clubs would still be subject to the Clean Indoor Air Act, which bans indoor smoking unless the establishment has no more than three employees. The bill bars the clubs from serving food beyond pre-packages snacks or coffee; state liquor code bars any club from selling alcohol.

Pabon and other supporters repeatedly mentioned indoor smoking during testimony Monday. Colorado already has a patchwork of private pot clubs, but the law is unclear about whether pot clubs are OK and many existing clubs are word-of-mouth “smokeasies.”

“We have at best a piecemeal approach to public consumption,” Pabon argued.

But anti-smoking activists oppose the bill, saying it could send the signal that smoking inside is OK, even under limited circumstances.

Bob Doyle of the American Lung Association warned that Colorado is “opening a Pandora’s Box” if it opens the door to statewide pot clubs.

No other marijuana state has regulated pot clubs, though underground pot-sharing clubs exist even in states where pot remains illegal. Voters in California and Maine last year approved legalization measures that allow for social consumption of pot, but regulations in those states are still being worked out.

Colorado’s pot club bill awaits a vote by the full House, though sponsors hint that amendments are likely, meaning the bill would have to return to the Senate before hitting the governor’s desk.

Kristen Wyatt can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt