By Jeffrey V. Smith
So far, the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado seems to be working. The start of January marks the one-year anniversary of legal sales in the state, and while many feared the worse—and still do—short-term statistics seem to indicate an increase in tourism, jobs and property values along with a reduction in crime and little indication adult or youth use has increased. While this is likely coincidence, it does show many of the predicted negative effects of ending the prohibition of pot have not materialized. Tax dollars, however, have.
The first state to legalize pot brought in $43 million in revenue in the first nine months of 2014 and overall sales have increased in all but one month. Several mountain communities in Clear Creek, Gilpin and Boulder counties, and the counties themselves, have embraced the situation and are also benefiting from increased tax revenue, and few negatives.
Much has changed within the industry as well as locally in the past year. Lyons, for example, took a wait-and-see approach and approved the town’s first recreational licenses near the end of 2014. The Bud Depot remodeled its store, while The Headquarters moved to a new location at the eastern edge of town in order to add recreational sales. Lyons Finest remains a medical only facility.
Nederland, the only Boulder County mountain community with recreational sales, had two stores close in the past 12 months, while a third, The Canary’s Song, was among the first in the county to get all of its recreational licenses and has since embraced adult sales. Club Ned, one of the world’s first marijuana smoking rooms, also opened in the small town.
Three Gilpin County locations—Central City’s Green Grass Alternative and The Annies as well as Alternative Medical Supply in an unincorporated location in mid-county—were ready to sell pot on the first day of legal sales. All are still going strong. Other recreational businesses are fresh on the scene, like the newly opened 1859 in Black Hawk and a soon to open Eureka Supply Co. at the Mother Lode Oxygen Bar in Central City. A couple is also working to establish a marijuana smoking lounge and movie theater in the county. Rocky Mountain Organics south of Black Hawk remains medical-only.
Clear Creek County has recreational sales in most of its communities. The Kine Mine, The Spring and Mountain Medicinals sell it in Idaho Springs while Serene Wellness in Empire, Sergeant Green Leaf in Georgetown and a newly opened location of The Green Solution in Silver Plume offer rec sales, too. The Highway and Mind Body Spirit—in the unincorporated Downieville area—also sell recreational marijuana. A stand-alone grow operation was recently approved by county officials.
Estes Park continues to ban all marijuana sales, including medical while Larimer County has approved few licenses in unincorporated areas and none in the mountains.
Most changes last year came in the form of packaging, which was an inconvenience for owners, and the testing and regulation of edible pot products following a few unfortunate situations that may, or may not, have involved someone eating large quantities of marijuana-infused food.
Issues have also arisen from law enforcement agencies in neighboring states—who have been accused of profiling Colorado cars—and claim they are seeing an influx of Colorado pot. Oklahoma and Nebraska have even sued the state, hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will rule that legalized marijuana is unconstitutional. Changes at the federal level in the past year, however, indicate an increasing acceptance of marijuana.
“I have not had many negative experiences this year,” Brandon Cowhey, owner of Green Grass Alternative in Central City, said. “We have experienced many types of people, but all have a positive attitude. We see the life-long smoker who loves looking at our 20+ strains, to the person who has never smoked in their life and just has questions.” The owner said he could “go on and on” about good experiences, but the best, he said, is the first-time customer who is “just amazed that they can chose from such an array of products and it’s legal to buy.”
According to Don Boring, owner of recreational stores The Annies in Central City and The Spring in Idaho Springs, legal sales have been a “boom” for the mountain stores. “Annies was the first license issued in the United States, and the publicity has given [it] a huge boost with out-of-town customers,” he explained. The Spring is a popular stop for skiers traveling on Interstate 70 and white water rafters in the summer.
The Canary’s Song in Nederland saw a “significant increase in business” since adding recreational marijuana, according to manager Katie Tayloe. “Recreational sales have been good for us,” she said.
As marijuana sales enter into the second year of legalization in Colorado, there will be an increasing amount of information to gauge the success of the new, budding industry. In the meantime, those who have embraced the new laws will continue to set the world standard for marijuana-based businesses and retail customer service.
“As a whole, the industry is changing very fast,” Cowhey said. “I don’t know what to expect for 2015, and beyond, but all I can tell you is we are ready for the ride and will always have top notch products and exceptional customer service.”
Cowhey, who grows 100 percent of his product to maintain consistency, likes that the state mandates testing for potency and contaminates. “That way the consumer can be confident with what they are buying from us,” he said. “When you buy from the black market, you can likely get it cheaper, but you don’t know if it has mold or is full of heavy metals.”
Boring, whose stores are part of the larger Strainwise network, agrees that consumer trust comes first. “I feel the customer wants the confidence that they are buying safe, pure and healthy products consistently every time they enter a [marijuana] store,” he said. “We are making a huge investment in our production facilities and store expansion to meet that goal and compliance with the laws… is also a high priority.”
If you are new to Colorado’s marijuana industry and consuming legal pot, be sure to educate yourself about things like potency and the local laws, which include not driving while high and smoking in public places including hotels or music venues. Whether you’ve smoked for years or are simply curious— and you’re over 21—go ahead and stop in one of the many mountain-based marijuana retailers to see what it’s all about—it’s totally legal.
Originally published in the January issue of the MMAC Monthly