Cannabis clubs, also known as cannabis social lounges, are becoming increasingly in-demand in states that have legalized the recreational use of the plant for adults aged twenty-one and over. This is especially true in Colorado, the trailblazing 420 state that has set the stage for legalization across the country. As this topic becomes more frequently discussed, it also brings about some questions: What are cannabis clubs? How could their existence be legal? Isn’t it a violation of anti-public-smoking laws? Well, we are here to answer those burning questions so that when the day for cannabis clubs arrives, you’ll know everything that you need to in order to enjoy what they offer.
For the purposes of this article, we will be referencing Colorado throughout. But it should be known that other states, such as Washington and Alaska, have looked into implementing such facilities within their own borders as well.
What is a cannabis club?
Most simply stated, a cannabis club is where users of the plant can go to safely and legally enjoy their cannabis or cannabis-infused products. In the state of Colorado, these establishments are banned under the language of the original 2012 legislation that, while legalizing adult-use cannabis, also banned its use in public. Washington has faced a similar problem with its own laws, while Alaska circumvented the problem entirely by omitting such language from its legislation.
Why would anybody need a cannabis club?
The accessibility and legality of recreational cannabis is a fantastic, huge, enormous win for the people of states that have voted it into law. But when public use is banned, that creates a problem for many individuals, including visitors who do not have their own private residence to smoke in, and those who live in communal areas (like apartments) where cannabis use is not permitted. Sure, you could go to a friend or family member’s house, but that isn’t much of a solution if you can’t just swing by anytime.
In Colorado the public use of cannabis is not allowed, and massive fines can be faced by those caught doing so. This has driven more people toward the use of edibles, which can be overwhelming or otherwise disagreeable to some users.
Currently, most legalizing states have banned the use of cannabis from all public areas-including hotels, which is a tough break for visitors who have come to these states and hope to try the local fare.
Are there currently any cannabis clubs around?
Yes, but there is only one that has been approved by a government body in the entire United States. Club Ned of Nederland, a town outside of Denver, was granted approval by the municipality after 15 months of approvals and a six-month trial period. Club Ned doesn’t allow for the consumption of alcohol within the establishment, nor do they allow individuals who are visibly under the influence of alcohol. Because of their strict guidelines of behavior and knowledge of the law, this club doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. They are the state government’s golden model for cannabis clubs.
Even though there is only one government-approved cannabis club in the United States doesn’t mean that other clubs do not exist. These hush-hush clubs maintain an underground status so that they can effectively operate in the grey area of state law. The Clean Air Act allows for private cigar clubs such as Elks Lodges, and cannabis clubs work under the language of the law that was intended for them. In order to join one of these underground clubs, applicants must pay a fee and the location cannot be within public view.
While this certainly seems to be working within the loosest interpretation of the law, the Colorado.gov website states that these clubs are not permitted in any way. See how things might get confusing? Generally, as long as these discreet clubs cause no issues to the public, they are begrudgingly allowed to operate. Everybody knows that they are there, but nobody really says anything.
How do cannabis clubs differ from dispensaries?
The key difference between a cannabis club and a dispensary is that a cannabis club does not sell any cannabis or infused products. They operate on a Bring-Your-Own-Bud policy, because they must be careful when operating in the murkier areas of the law. Cannabis clubs simply offer a place for you to light up without worry, with comfortable accommodations, much-needed snacks and perhaps some merchandise being sold up front.
A dispensary, to dispense cannabis either medically or recreationally, must achieve special licensing from the state to do so. So even if the owner of a cannabis club wanted to expand their business by offering a dispensary service as well, it would be impossible due to the fact that the club itself is not actually completely legal.
In conclusion: you cannot buy and consume cannabis in the same place under the current letter of the law.
What is being done to legalize cannabis clubs in Colorado?
In many ways, Colorado serves as an example of how cannabis legalization can work. Reformers throughout the state are looking to make this the case in regard to these currently-illegal clubs as well by advocating the amendment of the law to allow certain circumstances in which public use can be allowed. After all, public intoxication is illegal but we still let people drink at bars and restaurants.
In Denver, those who wish to have the law changed garnered enough signatures to get their Limited Social Use Cannabis initiative on the ballot. The proposal would have allowed the use of cannabis in adults-only bars and clubs within Denver’s city limits and had gained a lot of steam throughout the area. Industry leaders who supported the initiative included:
- Mason Tvert – communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project
- Christian Sederberg – attorney
- Brian Vicente – attorney
- Steve Fox – attorney and co-founder of the National Cannabis Industry Association
- Jane West – cannabis entrepreneur
But then, all at once, the campaign for Limited Social Use Cannabis stopped. This wasn’t a matter of signatures; they had double the amount necessary to make it to the ballot. Rather, it was a political move.
Restaurant owners and lawmakers of the state were opposed to this measure because they did not want cannabis being forced upon establishments that did not want it. So those behind the measure decided to take a time out and reconfigure the language of the proposal to create one that everyone can be happy with.
Steve Fox and his colleagues are hoping for a system that does not require approval from the state government, but rather one that can be defined by the individual municipalities throughout Colorado.
What is it like inside of a cannabis club?
In many ways, these underground cannabis clubs strongly resemble the early days of dispensaries: a little drab, but comfortable and welcoming. Seating is readily available so that you can light up in optimum comfort. These spaces don’t really provide all of the frills and accouterments of modern-day dispensaries, but bringing them out of the shadows could do a lot to boost the image of these clubs. When a day comes where the owners of these clubs can focus less on navigating the murky waters of the law, they can put their best foot forward in promoting and enhancing the space that they already have.
Photo by Alaska Carter