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February 8, 2014
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No takers yet for marijuana retail licenses

There’s room for eight reefer retailers in unincorporated Eagle County, but so far no one has applied for a license.

They will, and some are working through the process, but it’s a complex industry, say some medical marijuana dispensary owners. It’ll take a few more months, they say.

The Eagle County commissioners approved retail marijuana shops this past December and plan to issue eight licenses — six in the Eagle River Valley between Doterso and Eagle-Vail, and two in the Roaring Fork Valley. So far, they’ve had no takers, said Scot Hunn, senior planner with Eagle County.

Of those eight reefer retail licenses, four are reserved for the four medical marijuana dispensaries in Eagle County — outside town boundaries. They have 180 days to apply for them, said Bryan Treu, Eagle County attorney.

Anyone else can apply for the remaining licenses starting right now, Treu said. The county will probably collect applications through early April, when the county staff begins to sort through them.

“We have it set up so it’s not the first one in the door who gets the license,” Treu said.

The application process can be onerous, Hunn said. There are the state regulations, then the county’s approval process. They’ll check to see if you’re a decent citizen and not a felon. While applicants are wading through all that, they need to find a place do business.

If you’re scouting locations, then your store needs to be in an existing commercial area and be at least 500 feet from schools, churches and places where impressionable young minds would catch a whiff of your products.

As for social clubs, the marijuana equivalent of a bar, Hunn said that’s on hold until the state legislature sorts out its regulations. It’s supposed to happen during this spring’s legislative session.

Moving ahead slowly

Greg Honan, of Herbal Elements, is taking a wait-and-see approach. Right now they sell everything they can cultivate to their medical patients, he said.

“We could and we’d like to, but it’s competitive for space to cultivate and sell,” Honan said.

Also, he points out that medical marijuana doesn’t include the 25 percent tax levied on retail marijuana.

Then there’s the MITS program – Marijuana Inventory Tracking Solution. A regulation new this year requires every plant to carry a computer tracking chip, the same sort of technology ski resorts use to scan and track ski passes, and is already used to track other agricultural products.

“Every package and every plant has to have one, so it’s a lot of extra work to track every last gram,” Honan said.

There also cost considerations. Applicants for a new retail marijuana license must pay $2,000 to the county, and $1,500 a year to renew it. State licenses can cost between $3,000 and $14,000. To convert a medical marijuana license to a retail license will cost about $250 in county fees, Treu said.

Honan said he when opened Herbal Elements four years ago, it was a little like the Wild West.

“It’s the opposite now. The regulations are in place and there is no gray area. People have to be fully compliant and up to code before they open,” Honan said.

Holistic Healthcare in Edwards is working through the process and it’s full-time job, said David Tramm, who manages the medical marijuana dispensary. They’re getting their retail license at the state level first, then they’ll work through the county’s approval process, Tramm said.

“We’ve been through several hurdles, and we have several more to go. It’s a little complicated, and it should be at this point. Recreational marijuana is new and we’re trying to we do it right,” Tramm said. “We want to be ready for any problems that pop up or bumps in the road. I’m sure there will be things we didn’t anticipate, but that’s to be expected with anything new.”

If you’re one of the grandfathered medical marijuana dispensaries, then it’ll cost less. If you’re not, then getting licensed to sell retail marijuana could cost tens of thousands of dollars.

“It’s exciting, but there’s a lot of stress. We’d like to be able to do it already. We get lots of phone calls and people coming in and we can’t sell them anything because they don’t have a medical marijuana card. Most people are understanding and nice about it, but we have to turn them away,” Tramm said.

Growing green for greenbacks

Eagle County has seen much more interest from people who want to grow it, Hunn said. To do that, you need at least 10 acres in a spot zoned for agriculture.

Congressman Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat, just made industrial hemp cultivation easier. He slipped an amendment into the Farm Bill that prohibits federal law enforcement from enforcing its laws against hemp in states where producing and cultivating the plant is legal. It overrides the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 and the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act of 1994, among other laws.

The bill is headed to the White House where the president is expected to sign it.

Polis actually voted against the House version of the Farm Bill, even though it contained his hemp amendment. He said he voted against it because it included pork like a Christmas tree tax, a $30 million catfish inspection program, and sugar price supports.

Industrial hemp can be used to make paper, plastics, clothes, rope, flags and fuel, according to research from Purdue University. In 1938, Popular Mechanics magazine touted hemp as the new “billion-dollar product,” saying it could be used in more than 25,000 products. The sails and ropes on the American revolution warship U.S.S. Constitution, “Old Ironsides,” were made from hemp. It is controversial because it looks like marijuana and bears a trace of tetrahydrocannabinol, a psychoactive drug. Nine states besides Colorado already permit the production and cultivation of hemp.

Cannabis county?

Eagle County voters have spoken repeatedly and clearly about marijuana. They’re for it.

The town of Eagle could soon be home to a $5 million marijuana superstore – a Big Bong store – on Chambers Avenue, conveniently located near the Eagle County jail and just up the street from a taco restaurant.

Rocky Mountain Pure Retail Marijuana wants to build a 6,000-square-foot retail operation and a 22,500-square-foot indoor cultivation center. Ethan Borg, of Colorado Cannabis Co., of Denver, says his company also wants to include a Prohibition Museum and other commercial space.

“Rocky Mountain Pure will be a destination that Coloradoans and visitors alike will come to know as the location to not only purchase the best available products, but to learn about the wonders of cannabis and the last 90 years of prohibition, to enjoy the facilities and to even gather together for a cup of coffee in our world-class botanical gardens,” Borg said.

Eagle’s planning commission approved it, and now the town council gets to deal with it. Those hearings begin on Tuesday.

Borg says by its fifth year, it will light up Eagle’s coffers to the tune of more than $500,000 in tax revenue.

Why green is growing

Marijuana tourists not only buy cannabis and related products, they also spend money on hotels, food and entertainment, said Chris Walsh, editor of the Denver-based Marijuana Business Daily.

Marijuana Business Daily calculates that the nationwide medical marijuana industry generated $1.5 billion this year. They project that by 2018 it will grow to $6 billion, maybe more.

“Cannabis could easily become a top tourist draw, pumping hundreds of millions of dollars in sales tax into state coffers and rivaling Colorado’s $2.5 billion to $3 billion skiing industry. We think it could rival skiing. Not next year or the year after, but down the road,” Walsh said.

Walsh used to cover the ski industry for the Rocky Mountain News and says he has considered this before.

“The Colorado skiing industry is competing with resorts from all over the country and world,” Walsh said. “This could set Colorado’s skiing industry apart from its competitors in places like Utah and California. You’re talking about a potential global tourist market.”

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Feb 10, 2014 08:59AM Published Feb 8, 2014 03:48PM Copyright 2014 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.