Are pot shops right for Eagle County?
Vail, CO Colorado
EDWARDS, Colorado – Scott Ziegler’s hands are shaking, which happens to him sometimes. His Parkinson’s disease gets the better of him.
“My whole body shakes,” he said during a break between helping patients inside his Edwards dispensary. “It can get so bad, I hurt people, almost, if they’re in the way.”
For Ziegler, that’s where medical marijuana comes in. Each night after work, the 51-year-old Edwards resident takes a few pulls off his vaporizer or sucks on a square of pot-infused candy. It calms his tremors. It gives him hope.
Ziegler has had so much success with medical marijuana, he wanted to share it with other people by opening the Holistic Healthcare dispensary inside the former Eagle County sheriff’s office substation.
“I wanted to give people an alternative medication, other than the pharmaceuticals,” he said.
Today, the heated sidewalks leading up to his shop are strewn with yellow signs that read “Vote Yes! on proposition 1B.”
At one point, a 30-something patient stops into the store to buy some medical marijuana. As he fishes green, fragrant buds out of a glass jar with a pair of chopsticks, Ziegler makes a quick plea.
“Hope you’re voting next week or we’re out of business,” he said.
On Tuesday, Eagle County voters will weigh in on whether pot shops should be legal in unincorporated parts of the county. Likewise, Minturn voters will decide whether to ban the shops in town.
While supporters say the dispensaries deal a blow to the black market and give patients access to much-needed medicine, some say medical marijuana is wrong for Eagle County.
Edwards resident Buddy Sims has been leading the charge against the pot shops. The federal government still considers marijuana an illegal drug, he said.
“There’s been no scientific research or analysis of marijuana as medicine,” Sims added.
Pot shops don’t belong in a place like Edwards, where schools and churches abound, he said. And he’s not buying the idea that everyone with a medical marijuana card truly needs the drug for medicinal purposes.
“They’re being issued to recreational pot smokers and that’s the problem I have with Amendment 20,” he said.
There are six existing pot shops in Eagle County, mostly in unincorporated areas. Edwards is home to Holistic Healthcare Center, New Hope Wellness Center and Rocky Mountain High Pain Management and Wellness Center. Eagle-Vail has Tree Line Premier Medical Marijuana Center and Herbal Elements.
Within the town of Eagle, Sweet Leaf Pioneer has a special use permit for its pot shop on Chambers Avenue.
And although Red Cliff gave Mango’s Mountain Grill owner Eric Cregon permission to open a medical marijuana store in his restaurant, Cregon said he has since abandoned the plan because he couldn’t get financing.
The word dispensary fell out of vogue when the state’s new laws for the industry passed. The preferred parlance is now “medical marijuana center.”
Locally, most shops sell several different strains of medical marijuana, plus “edibles.” We’re not just talking about pot brownies, either. Some dispensaries sell marijuana-infused ice cream, soda – even butter.
A handful of local shop owners said their centers serve anywhere from 200 to 1,000 patients. Eagle County had 992 medical marijuana cardholders as of February, according to the most recent data from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.
Some of the local pot shops grow their marijuana at their dispensaries. Others run growing operations elsewhere in the state. For example, the owner of Tree Line Premier said he started Boulder’s first grow warehouse.
Locally, towns have taken different stands on pot shops. Avon, Gypsum and Vail banned them. Eagle voted to allow them, although councilwoman Roxie Deane said the board plans to re-examine its policies. Red Cliff also voted to allow dispensaries, although none have opened in town.
Jennifer Honan said she was shocked by how much private information the state demanded in the application for her medical marijuana center.
To apply for a license for her shop, Herbal Elements in Eagle-Vail, she had to list every scar or tattoo on her body. Uneasy, she penned a description of the Cesarean section scar on her belly.
“This is the most regulated industry of any industry in the country,” she said.
Honan said she had to pay a $9,000 fee just to apply for her license (applications were due Aug. 1 but the state won’t be giving out licenses until July). She also had to produce bank information for all of her direct relatives. In total, her finished application spanned 800 pages.
Local medical marijuana shops are adapting to a bevy of new regulations under the state’s House Bill 1284.
Under the law, the state Department of Revenue oversees the growing medical marijuana industry.
For most of the past decade, state laws were silent on pot shops. Colorado voters approved medical marijuana in 2000, allowing patients to designate a person other than his or her physician as a “caregiver.” That language opened up the door for the dispensaries. Before the state’s new laws passed, patients with medical marijuana cards simply designated the owner of the dispensary as his or her “caregiver,” which gave the dispensary the right to grow plants for the patient.
The new laws restrict how many patients a caregiver can have. Caregivers can have just five patients and can grow no more than six plants per patient, said Bryan Vincente, executive director of Sensible Colorado, a Denver-based nonprofit working for “effective and humane” drug policy. He also sits on a Department of Revenue committee that is working out the details of the new pot laws.
Pot shops are another story – they now have to get a license through the Department of Revenue, Vincente said. The law gave municipalities the ability to ban or approve medical marijuana centers. Shops can grow up to six plants per patient. The number of patients is based on how many card-holders designate the store as his or her primary medical marijuana center. Patients can still shop around to other dispensaries, even if they pick a primary supplier.
Shops must now grow 70 percent of the marijuana they sell, a provision that left some store owners scrambling to get into the farming side of the business.
The only other group allowed to run commercial growing operations are businesses that make pot-infused products, Vincente said.
Currently, the law does not limit how much marijuana those businesses can grow, as long as they use the marijuana exclusively in their products. Vincente expects that portion of the law to change soon.
The Department of Revenue has formed a committee to fine-tune rules for security and transporting medical marijuana from growing operations to the shops, Vincente said. He expects the committee to finish work on those rules by the end of December.
In the meantime, communities and pot entrepreneurs alike are grappling with the evolving laws.
“We’ve done everything by the book but the book has changed every month,” Ziegler said. “It’s been a logistical nightmare trying to follow all the rules.”
Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or email@example.com.