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Inside a Colorado pot club – a rare and endangered species

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AP Photo/Thomas Peipert

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — It’s the fish tank featuring a colorful reef made of glass marijuana pipes that ultimately sets the Speakeasy Vape Lounge apart from any other strip-mall bar and confirms what it really is: one of the United States’ only legal pot clubs.

The fact that it and a few dozen like it already exist in Colorado was all but lost in a recent fight over whether the state would become the first to regulate such establishments, underscoring the patchwork approach that legal weed states have taken in sorting out where it’s OK to consume pot in public.

Colorado allows pot clubs, but state lawmakers ultimately decided against a plan to regulate them statewide. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper warned that passing the measure could invite a federal crackdown.

The capital city of Denver, meanwhile, has approved but not yet enacted so-called “social use” of marijuana at places like coffee shops or yoga studios.

With no other weed state opting to regulate clubs or Amsterdam-style coffee shops, the Speakeasy Vape Lounge in Colorado Springs stands as one of a very few regulated marijuana clubs anywhere in the U.S. And its home city doesn’t allow recreational pot retail sales and might shut places like this down.

For now, a few regulars come to socialize, shoot pool and smoke concentrated marijuana, using special water pipes designed for a process called “dabbing,” a reference to how little marijuana is needed to produce the desired effect.

Speakeasy serves only food and water. No alcohol is allowed. Members must bring their own weed and pay a slight membership fee, about $25 a month, for the privilege of smoking pot with fellow marijuana users.

“I walk here twice a day to smoke,” says Linda Wood, 59, a club member who started using pot for pain relief after a hip-replacement surgery.

“I come to the club to consume because my apartments don’t allow it. Plus, there’s a lot of kids running around, and I’d rather be safe,” Wood says with a shrug before turning to her pipe and taking a long drag of concentrated marijuana. Soft rock plays in the background, and a muted TV shows CNN.

Speakeasy is a legitimate establishment in every way. It has a license and pays local taxes, and the signs out front look like pretty much any other bar except for the warning “DAB AT YOUR OWN RISK.”

Its future is tenuous, though. Since Colorado has no statewide regulations for pot clubs, it is unclear whether the clubs can also sell food and alcohol, or even allow patrons to smoke inside.

Colorado legalized recreational pot five years ago and has the nation’s most mature regulated industry. Still, visitors and pot smokers who can’t or won’t consume it at home have few places to go.

From Denver to mountain resorts like Aspen and Breckenridge, police wrote nearly 800 citations for the new crime of public consumption in 2014, the first year recreational sales began.

Speakeasy owner

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