- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 2, 2017

Colorado lawmakers moved forward on a bill Wednesday that paves the way for private marijuana clubs to open shop, as politicians from both sides of the aisle look to broaden the state’s billion-dollar cannabis industry.

Senate Bill 184 would allow local governments within Colorado to authorize the operation of private marijuana clubs for adults. It passed the chamber’s Business, Labor and Technology Committee with bipartisan support Wednesday following a 5-2 vote, sending it to the Senate floor for further consideration.

Colorado legalized marijuana for recreational purposes in 2012 and opened the nation’s first non-medical pot shops at the start of 2014. Despite marijuana being commercially available across the state, however, it’s currently illegal to consume marijuana in public, including places the state calls “indoor-but-public” locations, such as bars and restaurants.

Passage of S.B. 184 wouldn’t roll back those certain restrictions, but it would enable any county, city or municipality within Colorado to adopt ordinances allowing for the operation of private marijuana clubs — “a membership-based club not accessible to the general public that operates to allow members to consume retail or medical marijuana on the premises,” according to the proposal’s language.

Authorized clubs would be prohibited from selling alcohol, food or pot to its patrons, and customers would be barred from using clubs to conduct deals of their own. With Colorado’s cannabis industry having sold roughly $1.3 billion in legal weed during 2016, however, widening the availability of legal smoking spots could likely further boost the profits of medical and recreational dispensaries, as well as any entrepreneurs who start selling memberships to their private pot clubs if and when S.B. 184 is approved and implemented.

“We’re legal, and we need a place for people to go. We need social clubs,” Ashley Weber of Colorado NORML, a marijuana-legalization advocacy group, told The Associated Press.

One of two dissenting votes cast during Wednesday’s hearing came courtesy of State Sen. Tim Neville, Littleton Republican, who said lawmakers should instead back a broader proposal, Senate Bill 63, which would have authorized marijuana clubs with fewer restrictions. That bill failed Wednesday following a 6-1 vote.

Lawmakers looked toward another bill Wednesday that would allow dispensaries to deliver marijuana, Senate Bill 192, but delayed casting a vote, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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