Carbondale likely to host valley’s first recreational marijuana sale

by Nelson Harvey, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

The first place to buy legal recreational marijuana in the Roaring Fork Valley will almost certainly be in Carbondale, and provided that all goes smoothly in an upcoming licensing hearing, that pot will be for sale on Jan. 15. 

The owners of the Doctor’s Garden, a medical marijuana dispensary on Main Street in downtown Carbondale above the Mi Casita Restaurant, are seeking permission to convert part of their existing dispensary into a recreational cannabis outlet that would be supplied — at least at first — by an existing grow operation within the Carbondale town limits.

On the evening of Jan. 14, the Carbondale Trustees will review that request, and with approval the Doctor’s Garden could begin selling weed the following day to anyone over 21 years of age who presents a valid form of ID.

“If they approve us, we’ll be good to go on the 15th,” said Doctor’s Garden owner James Leonard. “It’s hard to say what kind of rush we’re going to get, but we [would be] the first spot on the 1-70 corridor,” west of Frisco to begin selling recreational cannabis.

At least 37 other medical dispensaries across Colorado have won approval so far to sell recreational pot, according to the Denver Post. The bulk of those are located in Denver, but Telluride is home to three, and Breckenridge to one.

Anticipating a rush, Leonard said he’s not planning on advertising much at first if he wins approval to sell recreational weed.

“I’ve already gotten general inquiries from people as far away as Utah,” he said. 

Under state regulations drafted after the passage of Amendment 64, existing medical marijuana businesses like the Doctor’s Garden in good standing with local and state government have the recreational cannabis market to themselves until July 1 when new suppliers can begin applying for licenses.

To supply the recreational market, existing medical dispensaries must apply to the state for a license to open a new recreational pot shop, grow operation, infused product manufacturing plant or testing facility. Once satisfied, state regulators will forward the application to local governments for final approval.

State law permits a recreational pot business to be “co-located” under the same roof as a medical marijuana facility, so long as the business owner maintains separate tracking systems for their recreational and medical products and keeps minors out of the recreational part of the store.

Leonard said he recently remodeled his Carbondale dispensary to accommodate recreational and medical customers alike by separating the store into two sales areas. People under 21 will be barred from entering the recreational area, and the pot there will be taxed at a much higher rate than the nearby medical cannabis — as high as 38 percent, thanks to state and local taxes passed this past November.

Although Leonard on Jan. 14 won’t be asking for a license to grow recreational weed at his medical grow operation in Carbondale (a hearing on that will come later), he plans to use a provision of state law to execute a one-time transfer of his medical pot supply to his recreational store.

 Chris Council/Aspen Daily News
James Leonard, owner of Doctor’s Garden, stands for a portrait in what will likely be the first retail marijuana store in Carbondale.

“We can transfer a bunch of stuff from our medical grow operation one time, and that’s what we’re planning to do,” he said, although whether he’ll have enough to meet local demand remains to be seen. 

If the Doctor’s Garden starts serving recreational customers on Jan. 15, there’s likely to be a lag of at least a month before the ribbon cutting at the valley’s next recreational pot shop.

A moratorium on recreational pot businesses in Glenwood Springs expired on Dec. 31, but since then the city has not received recreational license applications from any of the five medical marijuana dispensaries within city limits, according to Glenwood Springs City Clerk Robyn Unsworth.

And Carbondale Town Clerk Cathy Derby said she hadn’t gotten any more applications for recreational pot businesses from the state since the Doctor’s Garden application came in.

Derby said she had received a letter of intent to apply for a retail shop license in Carbondale from an entity called OSO LLC, but since the owners of that company don’t currently operate a medical marijuana dispensary, they can’t apply for a license until July 1.

Only one Aspen medical marijuana dispensary, the Silverpeak Apothecary, has so far applied to begin selling recreational cannabis out of its Aspen storefront.

And although Silverpeak owner Jordan Lewis could win local approval to sell legal pot as early as today, he still lacks approval to grow the stuff.

Lewis was set to appear before the Aspen’s Local Licensing Authority (colloquially known as the liquor board) this morning seeking permission to convert his existing medical marijuana dispensary at 520 E. Cooper St. to a dual recreational/medical shop. Lewis already has his state approvals for the shop in place.

The preliminary report submitted to the licensing authority by city of Aspen Clerk Kathryn Koch recommends that Lewis provide the liquor board with additional detail on the proposed location of the security cameras he’ll install in his recreational pot shop, but Koch lists no other deficiencies in his application.

Still, even if Lewis wins a local license for his shop today, he has said he’ll wait until Pitkin and La Plata counties finalize their retail pot cultivation rules before launching his recreational pot enterprise.

Lewis has medical cannabis grow operations in both of those counties, which he plans to use to help supply his emerging recreational business as he constructs a 25,000-square-foot pot greenhouse in unincorporated Pitkin County across from Holland Hills in the coming months. (He formally broke ground on the project last Friday). Yet the earliest that Pitkin County’s retail pot rules could be finalized is Feb. 12 — a public hearing on the rules has been set for that date.

Once the rules are finalized, Lewis will go before the Pitkin or La Plata county commissioners for a license to grow recreational pot in one or both of his existing medical grow facilities.

For the first nine months of recreational pot sales, state law requires pot shops to be “vertically integrated” meaning that they must grow at least 70 percent of the cannabis they sell. After Oct. 1, Lewis or any other recreational pot shop owner will be able to source as much marijuana as desired from large wholesale growers not affiliated with their businesses.