EAGLE COUNTY — Legal, retail marijuana is coming to Colorado as soon as Jan. 1 — but not in Eagle County.
Voters in 2014 passed a state constitutional amendment legalizing the possession and retail sale of small amounts of marijuana to adults 21 and older. In the aftermath of that vote, the state legislature and regulators spent the following months creating the regulatory system to enable stores to make those sales.
While some communities — including Denver — will have retail shops open Jan. 1, retail pot won’t come to Eagle County until the spring of 2014.
It’s not for lack of interest. The first businesses to add retail pot to their businesses will be existing, licensed medical marijuana dispensaries, since the owners have already completed an extensive legal process. Representatives of the existing dispensaries in the Vail Valley have all said they intend to add retail sales at some point.
Sweet Leaf Pioneer in Eagle may be the first retail shop in the valley. Co-owner Dieneka Manzanares said that shop will get into the retail business. After town voters in November agreed to allow retail sales in town, Manzanares said Sweet Leaf needs a special use permit from the town, and then will go through the state’s regulatory system for its retail license.
Those steps will push the opening of Sweet Leaf’s retail operation at least into February, and, probably, March. Still, the Eagle business may get something of a jump on dispensaries in Eagle-Vail and Edwards.
Eagle County still has a moratorium until Jan. 1 on issuing licenses for retail operations. The moratorium, essentially a temporary ban on retail shops, was imposed so the county could work on its own rules and regulations, which were approved in November. County attorney Bryan Treu said the county can start accepting applications Jan. 2 — the offices are closed New Year’s Day.
State officials won’t consider applications from Eagle County businesses until they can apply for local licenses. Treu said that once those applications are accepted, he expects it to take roughly 90 days for businesses to become licensed for retail sales.
While those rules and regulations are simple reality for business owners, people coming to the valley on vacation mostly know that marijuana is legal in Colorado. Murphy Murri, the general manager of the Tree Line dispensary in Eagle-Vail, said she fields calls and has visits “all the time” from people who want a little recreational pot for their vacation.
For the first part of the year, people who want marijuana on their ski vacations will probably have to buy it in Denver. As many as 12 shops there will be open Jan. 1.
Even when local retail shops do open, they may not have much inventory on hand. With the state attempting to track marijuana from “seed to store,” shops will need time to find supplies — it takes about four months to get a crop ready to harvest.
And it’s hard to tell just how much supply the retail stores will need. Murri said dispensaries have a good idea how much marijuana their medical customers require. The recreational demand, especially in an area a lot of tourists visit, is still a big unknown.
“We’ll have greater demand than supply at first,” Murri said. “And we don’t know what the demand might be.”
David Tramm, the store manager at Holistic Healthcare in Edwards, said his store may at first divert some of the crop dedicated for medical use to the retail side.
But that might be tough, too. While Manzanares in an earlier interview said she expects Sweet Leaf’s medical clientele to shrink, Tramm said he’s been telling medical clients to keep their certification cards. People may be able to save money on taxes and other costs added to retail operations, he said.
Despite those hangups, Murri, Manzanares and Tramm all said their businesses will be open for retail sales as soon as they can get licensed and get product on the shelves. But people looking to shop locally for recreational marijuana will need to be patient.