More room for medical marijuana in Vail Valley?
VAIL VALLEY. Colorado – Ziggy Zweigbaum opened a business new to the Vail Valley just a couple of months ago. Now it looks like he’s already got competition.
Zweigbaum is in the medical marijuana business. A few dozen young plants are growing in a back room of the New Hope Wellness office, located in an Edwards commercial building. A case has baked goods, all of them laden with marijuana. There are vaporizers for sale, for those who prefer not to smoke the stuff.
A bit farther back is Zweigbaum’s office. Several jars, all holding different strains of marijuana, sit on his desk.
In just the two months or so since he’s been open, Zweigbaum says he’s talked to upwards of 200 people, mostly locals, and all of whom have state-issued permits that allow them to grow, buy and use marijuana.
The state’s medical marijuana program was approved by voters in 2000. People eligible for the program have to get a medical doctor to write a prescription for treatment of chronic pain, to ease the effects of cancer treatment or to calm the effects of multiple sclerosis.
Heather Blair plans to open a dispensary in Eagle-Vail in the next few weeks. She said her family’s experiences, and her own, have shown her how medicinal marijuana can help a patient, especially when the alternative is handfuls of prescription drugs.
“My grandmother had (multiple sclerosis), and near the end she was taking 30 pills a day,” Blair said. “She wanted to take a different approach.”
Blair said the people she’s talked to so far mostly want an alternative to prescription painkillers.
“People are afraid they’re going to get addicted,” Blair said. “The people I talk to are afraid they’re taking more than they think they should, and they’re looking for an alternative.”
For more than eight years after the state’s medical marijuana law passed, people in Eagle County had to either grow their own or travel out of town to buy marijuana. In the span of just a few months, though, Zweigbaum and a partner opened a shop, Blair said she would open a shop, and Boulder-based Urgent Herbal Care announced it would open a shop, too.
Zweigbaum chalks it up to a couple of things.
“Somebody finally needed the ‘cojones’ to open,” he said. He added that an announcement earlier this year by the Obama administration that it wouldn’t pursue criminal actions against medical marijuana dispensaries helped, too.
Zweigbaum acknowledged that this is a business, and other companies have every right to try to make a go of it in Eagle County. But, he said, he thinks three shops opening in the span of a few months might be too much, too soon.
“If there’s only 200 card-holders in the county, I don’t think you need three shops. And this isn’t as easy a business as you’d think.”
Cards have to be checked, for one thing. Someone buying marijuana with a fraudulent card will get in trouble, and so will the dispensary that sells to him.
Then there’s the matter of getting product. Zweigbaum said his product has all been obtained through people who are growing legally now.
And both Zweigbaum and Blair – calls to a source at Urgent Herbal Care weren’t returned – said they’ve been scrupulous about staying on the right side of the law. Both have talked to local police, and Zweigbaum said he’s given a tour of his shop to an Eagle County Sheriff’s deputy.
“It was actually great,” Zweigbaum said. “They were very supportive.”
While both Zweigbaum and Blair are working hard to stay on the right side of the law, that might get more difficult, as soon as this week.
The Eagle County Commissioners Tuesday are expected to vote on an ordinance that would regulate where a medical marijuana dispensary can be located. The proposed regulations specify that a shop can’t be too close to schools, public buildings, or rehabilitation centers, among other conditions.
Blair’s location – in Eagle-Vail, just east of the Vail Daily building, probably qualifies. And Zweigbaum said he and his partner picked their location with the intent of remaining low-key.
“We didn’t want to slap anyone in the face by being open,” he said.
But people with cards need to pay attention to stay legal as well. Prescription or not, people are expected to medicate in private.
“If you’re smoking and driving, you’re going to get stopped,” Zweigbaum said.
And people can’t expect to just take this kind of medicine at work, either.
“There’s nothing in the amendment that requires employers to accommodate anyone,” said Hollis Dempsey, co-owner of HR Plus, an Eagle-based human resources consulting company.
With 10,000 card-holders in the state right now, Dempsey said employers need to be sure they have drug policies in place and enforce them consistently.
“It’s likely a lot of employers haven’t thought about this,” Dempsey said.