More than 100 passionate people crammed council chambers at City Hall on Tuesday night, pressing the case to keep cannabis clubs alive in Colorado Springs.
Testimony from the standing-room-only crowd at the public hearing ranged from gracious to venomous, with one man shrieking that Councilman Don Knight is “evil.” Sustained loud applause after every pro-pot speaker prompted nervous barking from service dog Nelson, whose owner took the dog and left early. The clapping continued nonetheless.
Knight says he wants to ban cannabis clubs, largely because residents don’t get a say on whether such establishments are allowed in their neighborhoods. Also, most if not all of the clubs exchange marijuana for membership dues or donations, essentially selling recreational marijuana despite a city ban on such sales.
But the clubs also offer a haven for tourists and for locals who have nowhere else to imbibe, including many who use medical marijuana. Public consumption of the drug is illegal statewide.
“My landlord won’t let me smoke inside. Y’all won’t let me smoke outside,” said veteran Jonathan Doezier. “In order to smoke cannabis legally, what do you recommend I do if you ban these clubs? I came from Afghanistan with PTSD. I fought for that flag right there in that corner, and I did it in the name of freedom. All I’m asking for is freedom now.”
Most of the speakers – including club owners – urged the City Council to regulate the clubs through zoning, licensing and other legal requirements.
Many lamented the loss of investments and revenue if the city’s 15 clubs eventually close.
“As a military town, it is our duty to support our veterans. We don’t have a right to take away their livelihood,” said Presence Mercier, whose family owns the Lazy Lion. “You will be putting people on the welfare line, children on food stamps. . You might not be for cannabis, but everyone in town can benefit from the money.”
From the opposite perspective, Doug Brown said he’s had to call police more than 20 times since June because of cannabis clubs near his home on Bijou Street.
“I do not have a problem with marijuana clubs existing; I do have a problem with zoning that allows them to be so close to each other,” Brown said.
Inadequate parking, public disruptions and fighting with patrons from nearby bars were among problems he cited.
Several speakers later insisted that Brown’s problems likely stemmed from neighborhood bars, not the cannabis clubs. Alcohol tends to lower inhibitions and can lead to poor judgment and violence, while marijuana simply mellows its users, they said.
But Paul Seeling asked: “Do we want to be a city of virtue? Or do we want to be a city of vice? There is a medical use of marijuana; I do not dispute that at all. The people of Colorado Springs in recent polls have said, ‘I think we might have made a mistake.'”
“What polls?” shouted pro-pot protesters from the back of the room. “What polls?”
“The problem is,” Seeling continued, “we can’t control it because it has too lucrative a pull from the undercurrent of our society.”
That statement prompted near bedlam, as one man stood and screamed, “Point of order! Point of order!”
Knight finally hushed the audience so testimony could continue.
The councilman has proposed several options, from ordinances to require zoning and licensing of cannabis clubs to an outright ban eased in over a period of five years.
The council will consider those options during its regular meeting at 1 p.m. March 8, when more public testimony will be allowed. The final vote on cannabis clubs will be taken March 22, the date on which the six-month city moratorium on such clubs comes to an end.