Pubdate: Wed, 09 Mar 2016
Source: Colorado Springs Independent (CO)
Column: CannaBiz
Copyright: 2016 Colorado Springs Independent
Author: Nat Stein


As Colorado Springs city officials ponder the future of cannabis 
clubs, an argument that's often floated for doing away with them is 
that they make bad neighbors: Marijuana lures an undesirable crowd 
that causes a ruckus and disturbs the peace.

Not so, says Phil McDonald, owner of the Springs Bikini Bar, which 
shares a wall with the Speakeasy Vape Lounge. Another club, The Lazy 
Lion, which was raided by federal agents late last month, is on the same block.

McDonald, a former marshal with the Colorado Springs Police 
Department who's involved in local Republican politics, says that it 
took some prodding before he agreed to take over the bar on East 
Bijou Street from his sister and brother-in-law. His hands were 
already pretty full with four other local businesses and two young 
sons. But the biggest cause for pause was the bar's neighbor.

"I used to be real anti-marijuana," McDonald explains. He's sitting 
in a booth next to some old pinball machines in the back of his 
beach-themed bar, where a bikini-clad woman slings drinks and a 
bloody boxing match plays on the TV.

"When I was an officer, we'd go to these, for lack of a better term, 
real hellhole kind of places, [with] grows in these dark basements 
and everyone smoking dope, and there was always porn. It was a real mess."

When he finally decided to take ownership of the bar late last year, 
McDonald thought he would just steer clear of his cannabiz neighbors. 
Live and let live, he thought. But after a while, a buddy convinced 
him to go over and check them out.

"I was extremely surprised," McDonald remembers thinking on his first 
trip next door. "It's very nice in there, and you see every walk of 
life: retired military, husbands and wives. And Jay is running the 
place just like I'm running mine - on the up and up."

Jay is Jaymen Johnson, owner of the Speakeasy, who says he spent a 
decade working as a bouncer in downtown nightclubs and another 
working in medical marijuana. He opened the Speakeasy three years ago 
with just a thousand dollars on hand, he says. Each week he'd buy a 
new piece of furniture with the money he'd made that week. Now, he 
claims to enjoy a loyal customer base and operates what seems to be 
one of the most popular cannabis clubs in town.

"There's this misconception in most people's minds that we're going 
to be a folding-chair operation," Johnson says, while torching a dab 
for one of his patrons. "When they see something as legit as this, we 
love to see those misconceptions wash away."

Legitimacy is a slippery thing for cannabis clubs, which operate in a 
gray area of the law. Generally speaking, they are membership-based 
clubs that allow for on-site cannabis consumption. Patrons may bring 
their own weed or reimburse the club for some of its stash. 
Attorneys, law enforcement and policymakers seem to agree that thanks 
to semantics, the clubs are perfectly legal, even in a town that has 
banned recreational sales such as Colorado Springs.

The biggest distinction amongst cannabis clubs is the quantity they 
choose to offer. Some, like the Speakeasy and Studio A64, claim to 
offer only single servings to their members. No pot leaves the club. 
Others allegedly offer ounces to customers, who are welcome to take 
home whatever they do not consume on-site. That practice pisses off 
local medical dispensary owners, who say those clubs are operating as 
de facto dispensaries.

It also pisses off other club owners like Johnson, who insist that a 
cannabis club should be to a dispensary what a bar is to a liquor store.

"I may be an oddity, but I want regulation," Johnson says. "I've been 
asking [City Council to], 'License me, tax me, inspect me.'"

As Colorado Springs' six-month moratorium on new cannabis-related 
business licenses nears an end, City Council is tackling a policy 
question it has been promising to address for years: What to do about 
cannabis clubs?

Earlier this month, the city's Planning Commission drafted three 
ordinances to consider before making a recommendation to City 
Council: two that would create a Marijuana Consumption Club license 
and relegate clubs to industrial zones, and a third that would ban 
clubs altogether. The Commission has recommended the third option.

The proposal, pushed primarily by Councilor Don Knight, is scheduled 
for a first reading this week and a final decision on March 22. Upon 
its likely passage, the ordinance will prohibit the opening of any 
new cannabis clubs; close any that opened after September 2015; and 
allow clubs that opened prior to Sept. 2015 to operate through 2021, 
at which time they would have to shut down.

"I've invited all [Council members] to visit the Speakeasy," Johnson 
says. "We're providing a service to the community just like Phil 
[McDonald] is. Only difference is you don't get those ego and anger 
issues you see with alcohol."

McDonald now believes that when it comes to intoxication, weed and 
booze are pretty much apples and oranges.

"When customers from next door come over here and they've smoked a 
little bit, they're good as gold," he says. "They're chill. They just 
want to watch some TV, listen to music and just relax. Now with 
alcohol, that's when people act up, get rowdy, want to fight and all that."

So if what Johnson serves his customers is more mellow than what's on 
tap here at the Bikini Bar, McDonald sees no reason to shut down the 
Speakeasy. In fact, why treat them any differently?

"We're right next to each other, both trying to run our businesses by 
the book as straight as possible," McDonald says. "The city is trying 
to reinvent the wheel with this. I think we need to take these liquor 
laws we've developed over what, like a hundred years, and just double 
it over onto the marijuana industry."

McDonald laughs when he thinks back on how his opinion about 
marijuana has changed in the years since he was a police officer.

"I mean, I'm a conservative guy. But the last four months have been 
eye-opening. I've only been to [the Speakeasy] so I don't know about 
all of them, but I don't want to see Jay shut down. He cares about 
his customers, he cares about his industry and the future of his 
industry. Personally, I'd want to see Council work with him to figure 
out, 'Hey, how should we run these clubs so we become the icon, the 
pinnacle here in Colorado Springs?'"
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom