Legal pot for sale today in Carbondale

by Nelson Harvey, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

It’s official: Recreational pot sales in the Roaring Fork Valley have begun. Starting today, local cannabis lovers can walk into a Carbondale shop and purchase a bag of weed with virtually the same ease that they buy a gallon of milk or a six-pack of beer. 

The Doctor’s Garden medical marijuana dispensary at 580 Main St. in Carbondale won approval Tuesday night from the Carbondale Board of Trustees to open the valley’s first recreational marijuana shop. Starting at 9 a.m. today, the shop will begin selling cannabis to any adult who walks in the door with a valid ID — at least until supplies run out.

The shop will operate out of the Doctor’s Garden’s existing medical marijuana store, located above the Mi Casita restaurant downtown. It’s the first of its kind to win approval since the Carbondale trustees finalized their rules governing the industry in September, and the first recreational shop to open on the Interstate 70 corridor between Frisco and the Utah border.

“I’m elated, I’m ecstatic,” said Doctor’s Garden owner James Leonard, as he clutched his dual recreational pot licenses from the state and the town of Carbondale after Tuesday night’s hearing. “I’ve been working toward this for the better part of three years, and there are a lot of people who have been working for it a lot longer than that.”

Asked after the hearing whether opening a recreational shop would add to his bottom line despite all the inspections, application fees and other red tape he’s endured, Leonard said he expected recreational sales to boost his business substantially.

“I think this will boost both sides of the business. Medical will be better for habitual users, but the people who only buy it once a month, they’ll pay a little more,” he said, noting that tourists could also be an important part of his customer base.

Carbondale Mayor Stacey Bernot asked Leonard how he’s planning to cope with a rush in demand stemming from the fact that he’ll likely be the only recreational pot shop in the valley for some time.

Leonard said he’s limiting pot purchases to a quarter ounce per person at first. Although he hadn’t finalized his pricing structure on Tuesday night, buyers can expect to see recreational pot fetching a much higher price than its medical counterpart because of short supply and state and local taxes topping 35 percent.

Under state law, Leonard is planning to execute a one-time transfer of cannabis from his medical to his retail operation today, and a hearing on his proposed recreational grow operation — to be co-located with his existing medical grow on Village Road in Carbondale — is set for Thursday night before Carbondale’s Planning and Zoning Commission.

If the town approves his grow operation as well, Leonard said, he could do another transfer of medical marijuana plants that have not yet reached maturity but are due in about a month, which he hopes will keep him supplied until more pot from wholesale growers hits the market. 

Trustee Pam Zentmeyer asked Leonard whether he had hired any private security forces to cope with crowds at his shop in the coming days, and Leonard said he would have a security guard checking the IDs of every customer at the door. 

State law requires that Leonard keep anyone under the age of 21 out of the recreational section of his store, and maintain separate entrances and storage areas for medical and recreational cannabis. Leonard recently remodeled his store into two separate rooms for recreational and medical sales, respectively. Recreational customers will be able to access the third-floor space using the front door, and medical customers will have to take an elevator to a separate entryway.

Operators of dual medical/recreational pot shops in must also maintain separate inventory tracking systems, and in Carbondale they must levy a statewide, voter-approved sales tax of 10 percent and a local sales tax of 5 percent on the recreational cannabis they sell.

Given the dearth of other recreational pot shop business applications in the pipeline throughout the valley, the Doctor’s Garden will likely be the only shop to open locally for at least a month.

Jordan Lewis of Aspen’s Silverpeak Apothecary medical marijuana dispensary got a license from the city of Aspen on Jan. 7 to open a recreational shop, but his cannabis grow operations are located in two counties — Pitkin and La Plata — that have not yet finalized their recreational pot rules. A public hearing on Pitkin County’s rules has been set for Feb. 12.

As of last week, neither Glenwood Springs nor Carbondale had received additional recreational pot business applications from local dispensaries.

Town Clerk Cathy Derby said she did receive a notice that an entity called OSO LLC planned to apply for a recreational shop license, but since that company isn’t currently operating a medical marijuana dispensary they must wait until after July 1 to submit their application in accordance with state law.

Tuesday night was an all around good time for Leonard, as the trustees also agreed to refund him a total of $6,000 in licensing fees that he had paid to the town. The trustees voted early in the meeting to lower their recreational pot business license fees from $5,000 per license to $2,000. The Doctor’s Garden had already paid the town $10,000 for two business licenses — one to grow and one to sell — before the change was made.

The lower licensing fees bring the recreational pot business climate in Carbondale in line with those of Aspen and Glenwood Springs, which will impose $2,000 licensing fees on new pot businesses. The Carbondale trustees had imposed the higher fee at first to insure that the town had enough tax revenue to adequately regulate the recreational pot industry, but they agreed to lower the fee after voters last November approved combined taxes of 35 percent on sales of the drug.