EAGLE COUNTY — The Vail Valley’s second retail marijuana shop opens Monday. There will be more in the coming months.
Eagle’s Sweet Leaf Pioneer has been open since spring, and another shop is planned. While every other town in the valley has either banned or delayed licensing for new retail shops, a number of shops are planned for Edwards and Eagle-Vail, both in unincorporated Eagle County.
The first of those shops, Native Roots, opens Monday in Eagle-Vail, in the back part of the building that once housed the Route 6 Cafe.
When Eagle County finished its regulations for retail shops, Native Roots — a Front Range-based company with medical dispensaries and retail shops in Boulder and Denver — was already in the midst of working through an application for a medical dispensary at the Eagle-Vail site.
Scot Hunn, a senior planner with the county who focuses on marijuana license applications, said that head start helped Native Roots get open first.
It’s a complex process to obtain a retail license. A potential operator first has to clear all of the state’s myriad requirements. After that, it’s time to meet the county’s licensing requirements. Before a license is issued and sales can start, the operator of a dispensary or retail store also has to go through an extensive building-permit process.
Hunn said an operator must submit plans that include everything from security to ventilation.
“They have to show us on paper that they can provide a solution to potential problems,” Hunn said.
That building permit approval is important for stores or dispensaries in multi-unit buildings, so neighbors aren’t affected by odors, but Hunn said the requirements are especially important for growing operations, which create more odors than shops.
Final license approval is granted after a final inspection, and licenses must be renewed every year, pending inspections.
Hunn said at the moment another five licenses are pending for this part of the county, with two in process for the potion of the county in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Three of those licenses were reserved for the three existing medical dispensaries in the valley. Hunn said there were eight applicants for the remaining three licenses. All of those recreational license-holders are now working through the approval process, Hunn said. One of the two businesses currently based in Edwards is working on a move to Eagle-Vail in the name of finding a larger space.
Native Roots co-owner Rhett Jordan said his company was attracted to the valley by a couple of things — opportunity, and the fact he’s been coming here since he was a kid growing up in the Denver area.
“The Vail Valley’s been a big part of my life, and when we heard Eagle (county) was going recreational, we decided to come.”
While a recreational license will certainly attract tourists, Jordan said the medical part of Native Roots’ business remains its top priority.
That business has changed significantly since dispensaries began opening quickly in 2009. That rush followed a U.S. Department of Justice directive to essentially ignore those businesses, although marijuana possession, sale and consumption is a federal crime. Another directive a couple of years later essentially reined in the dispensary business. Jordan said the number of dispensaries in the state has dropped from a high of more than 1,200 to just more than 500 today.
Jordan said the people left in the business today tend to be more professional.
“The industry has really started to shift — I think we all wanted to create something bigger and stronger.”
And, like others in the industry, Jordan believes that if Colorado sets a good example in the wake of the 2012 ballot issue that legalized recreational use in the state, it could bode well for legalization in other states, too.
But is five shops in Eagle-Vail too much? Jordan said Eagle County might have “overshot the market a little to get more competition.”
As the number of recreational stores multiplies, it will be interesting to see who survives.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, email@example.com or @scottnmiller.