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Pot activists divided over new cannabis club in Colorado

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Denver (CNN) — A small group of New Year’s Eve revelers here ditched the traditional champagne toast, lighting up joints instead at a newly opened marijuana club.

The members-only Club 64 is the first of its kind to open in Colorado since November when voters approved Amendment 64, which legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use.

The club opened on New Year’s Eve at 4:20 p.m. — another significant number among pro-pot advocates — to a small, but enthusiastic crowd of about a dozen people, all over the age of 21. Each member paid a $29 fee, allowing them to bring their own weed and smoke anywhere on the premises.

Not all of Colorado’s marijuana advocates are celebrating.

“Much of our success with Amendment 64 was making the soccer moms comfortable,” said one advocate who campaigned to pass the amendment and declined to be named for fear of creating a rift within the marijuana advocacy community.

“This is not the fight we want to have right now.”

Even though the club doesn’t sell marijuana, the advocate said it “thwart(s) the intent of Amendment 64,” which requires a year-long waiting period before stores are allowed to open and sell marijuana. That provision is designed to allow state and local governments enough time to regulate the industry and, proponents hope, to help ease fears in the community.

Despite new laws in Colorado and Washington state, federal law still prohibits recreational marijuana use. It’s unclear if the federal government will step in and try to stop either state’s laws from being enacted.

The advocate expressed concern that unregulated marijuana clubs in Colorado could create a bad impression on voters who supported the measure.

“We have not only an opportunity but a responsibility to demonstrate to America this can In a carefully worded statement, the advocacy director of Yes on Amendment 64 said that while Club 64 poses no risk to the community, it does put at risk the advances their cause has made.

“We can best demonstrate that regulation is a much safer approach to marijuana policy than prohibition through the careful and swift creation of regulated businesses,” Betty Aldworth said.

Those who showed up at Club 64 Tuesday weren’t interested in making sure “soccer moms” would approve of their behavior. They just wanted to celebrate their recent victory at the ballot box by ringing in the new year with their now legal drug of choice.

“The voters of Colorado have said we want cannabis to be legalized and we want a bunch of like-minded adults to be able to get together and exercise their constitutional rights together and that’s what Club 64 embodies,” said club owner Rob Corry.

Gabriel Kinderay, clad in an orange Denver Broncos cap, wasted no time filling a small glass pipe with marijuana he says he grew himself and lighting up.

“It seems like up until today we were the kind of people that had to be secretive about who we were and how we lived our lives,” he said. “Over the last couple of years we’ve been able to start really talking more openly about what we do and people have accepted it and that’s great. I’m glad to see that.”

Club 64 doesn’t have a permanent location and the address for the New Year’s Eve celebration was distributed only to paying members. Corry hopes to make the club a monthly event, moving from location to location.

Long-time Denver marijuana activist Miguel Lopez hopes Amendment 64 and Club 64 will serve as a model for other communities.

“It’s a pathway to further freedom,” said Lopez. “Are we truly free if all human beings cannot possess marijuana? Not just in Colorado but as a human rights campaign globally. Let Denver be a beacon of hope for freedom, for true freedom.”

Lopez then fired up a joint, held in the smoke and exhaled with a series of coughs.

“You can’t get off if you don’t cough,” he said with a grin.

The new year could bring a deeper divide among Colorado’s pro-marijuana advocates, as the state tries to figure out how to reconcile its new law with the federal government and the stigma surrounding the drug that advocates insist is no worse than alcohol.

Corry, an attorney and a longtime marijuana advocate who is known for ruffling feathers, rejected the notion that his club is hampering efforts to make marijuana more socially and legally acceptable.

“This is much larger than just marijuana, this is a civil rights struggle to end prohibition and civil rights struggles and overcoming oppression (do) not happen easily,” Corry said. “It has to happen by people taking chances and sometimes yes, pushing the envelope …

“And that is how change happens in this country and that’s what got us to this point — people taking chances and pushing the envelope.”

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