DENVER – Colorado lawmakers’ quest to navigate the realities of legalized marijuana opened a new chapter Tuesday at the Capitol.
Senate Bill 63, which would allow clubs where recreational marijuana could be purchased and consumed, was heard by the Senate Business, Technology and Labor Committee on Tuesday. After lengthy public testimony, it was laid over until Wednesday for amendments and a final vote.
Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins and sponsor of SB 63, said the bill attempts to cut down on illegitimate underground clubs and provide outlets for a growing pot tourism industry that leaves visitors at risk of violating the law by smoking in public.
“We have people coming to Colorado on vacation with the possibility of leaving on probation because we have not provided for them a place to legally ingest or smoke the product that we have deemed legal,” Marble said.
The bill is intended to allow local municipalities to decide what the requirements are for a license to operate a club, she said. “All authority of rule making and regulation goes to the municipalities and it’s all local control. All this bill does is grant a license for them to exist.”
The bill was the subject of more than two and a half hours of public testimony, during which opponents brought up issues regarding the health effects from being in smoke-filled environments and the conflict between the bill and the Colorado Indoor Clean Air Act, which prohibits smoking in most indoor public spaces.
R.J. Ours, Colorado government relations director for the American Cancer Society, said research on the effects of marijuana smoke on lung function suggests it is as damaging as tobacco smoke.
Jason Warf, executive director of the Southern Colorado Cannabis Council, said the science behind those claims is dated.
Warf said a study conducted in 2012 acknowledges that inflammation and injury of lungs can result from marijuana smoke, but states “analyses of pulmonary function and lung disease have failed to detect clear adverse effects of marijuana use on pulmonary function.”
“It’s irresponsible for us not to take this into account and not legislate based on this science,” Warf said.
Public safety issues such as drugged drivers was brought up by John Jackson, member of the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, who said the congregation of individuals to consume marijuana would increase the number of impaired drivers on the road.
“This does not make your communities safer,” Jackson said.
Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, said he disagrees the bill will decrease public safety as there are already issues due to marijuana use in public.
“You’re saying that this is going to create a safety issue, but I’m looking at it and I’m saying there is a safety issue right now based upon where the community is and the level of enforcement on public consumption,” Neville said.
A similarity between the bill and legislation that regulated public alcohol consumption following the prohibition era was brought up by Neville.
“I’m kind of relating it to, ‘would we rather have people out there with open containers drinking and doing whatever else or would we rather have them at least in a bar with some level of oversight and regulation and licensing versus the opposite?’” he said.