Colorado lawmakers have backed off plans to regulate marijuana clubs, saying the state would invite a federal crackdown by approving Amsterdam-style pot clubs.
The state House voted Thursday to amend a bill that would have set rules for how private pot clubs could work.
It was a dramatic reversal. Bring-your-own pot clubs had bipartisan support in the Legislature, and the measure had already cleared the GOP Senate.
But lawmakers bowed to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who repeatedly warned lawmakers that he would veto a club measure if it allowed indoor pot-smoking. The governor also warned that clubs, and a separate proposal to allow pot delivery, might invite intervention from the U.S. Department of Justice.
"Given the uncertainty in Washington, this is not the time to be trying to carve off new turf and expand markets and make dramatic statements about marijuana," Hickenlooper told The Denver Post last month.
Sponsors of the club bill said that they had little choice but to back off, leaving Colorado with its current spotty club landscape.
Colorado already has about 30 private pot clubs, according to legislative analysts, but they operate under a patchwork of local regulations and are sometimes raided by law enforcement.
Clubs in Colorado frequently operate in a similar manner to pot clubs in states where pot isn’t legal, with small groups meeting up to smoke in a secret location members sometimes call "Dave’s House," a reference to an old Cheech and Chong skit.
The House amendment passed Thursday effectively removes club regulations, and the remaining bits of the bill are relatively minor. The bill could face yet more changes before a final vote. Lawmakers who bemoaned the club bill’s demise cited U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has hinted that states violating federal drug law won’t be tolerated.
"I’d like to see (a club bill) that goes much further, and that does a lot more, but in a year with Jeff Sessions, a small first step is better than no step at all," Democratic Rep. Jonathan Singer said.
Not everyone agreed with the change, saying Colorado is wimping out by backing off.
"It only makes sense to allow people to have a place to where they can (smoke marijuana) where it’s controlled and confined," said Republican Sen. Tim Neville, who sponsored a separate club bill that failed because it would have allowed clubs to sell the marijuana people would smoke, similar to a bar selling alcohol.
"We have legalized marijuana. Where do we want people to use it if not at home? On the street?"
The Colorado bill would have made it the first state to regulate clubs statewide
Alaska pot regulators decided earlier this month to delay action on a measure to allow on-site pot consumption at marijuana dispensaries, or "tasting rooms."
Ballot measures approved by voters last year in California, Maine and the city of Denver would allow either on−site pot consumption or so-called "social use" clubs, but regulations for how those clubs would work haven’t been settled.