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“Green rush” is over, industry keeps shaking out

Locations: News Published

State shutters one shop

By John Colson

Sopris Sun correspondent

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When the so-called “green rush” of marijuana businesses began several years ago, Carbondale at one time boasted 13 pot shops selling to customers throughout the middle portion of the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond, when one counted tourists and customers from other parts of the Western Slope.

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Today, that town’s roster of pot related businesses has dwindled to a total of nine.

That list, according to Town Clerk Cathy Derby, includes:

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• Three “recreational” pot shops, which do not require doctor’s prescription for sales (with one application pending), and one medical marijuana dispensary where a doctor’s prescription is required;

• Three cultivation operations or “grows” (with one application pending);

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• One outfit making “marijuana-infused products” or MIPs, also known as edibles;

• And one testing facility, for testing for contamination and other aspects of the process of growing, cooking with and selling pot to the public.

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“It’s kind of like … the green rush is over,” said Derby, referring to the thinning-out process that has cut into what once was seen as a massively expansive growth industry.

The abated “rush” continues, though, as one new recreational pot shop — the Acme Healing Center in the Sopris Shopping Center on Highway 133 — opened up a month ago, and another recreational pot purveyor, called Sweet Leaf, has applied for a Carbondale business license.

Acme’s general manager, David Niccun, told The Sopris Sun that the business has three other stores. All are on the Western Slope — in Crested Butte, Durango and Ridgeway — one is medicinal only (Durango), while the Crested Butte and Ridgeway outlets do both kinds of business.

With a workforce starting out at three employees in the Carbondale store, but with hopes to employ up to half a dozen “when it gets busier,” Niccun said the business got its start in 2010 and sells product grown at a facility in Ouray County.

New applications aside, Derby reported that part of the thinning-out process among Carbondale’s pot shops has come from businesses running afoul of the state’s regulations governing the industry, which is only a few years old.

For example, one local pot shop started by long time Carbondale businessman H.P. Hansen and his son, Anders, known as The Center, was shuttered last summer by state regulators due to compliance issues, according to Derby, although she said she has not been informed as to the exact nature of the compliance problems.

Hansen, reached at home this week, acknowledged that the state had uncovered “violations, mostly on the recreational side,” while Hansen was in the middle of transferring ownership of the recreational shop to another businessman as Hansen and his son planned to hang onto the medicinal side of the business.

To avoid legal entanglements involving administrative-law hearings and possible penalties, Hansen said, “We voluntarily surrendered our licenses. That’s the route I chose, to just close everything.”

Overall, Hansen said of his pot-shop enterprise, “It’s been interesting. I really enjoyed being involved. We had a good thing. The change of ownership just didn’t work out.” The property where the business once was located is now for sale, Hansen said.

Another local business, Doctor’s Garden at Main Street and Weant Boulevard, tried to manage both sides of the sales enterprise, but also ran afoul of state regulators and ultimately closed down the medicinal side of the business and now operates a recreational pot shop only.

Carbondale’s sole remaining medical marijuana shop, called CMED but doing business as Rocky Mountain High, is located at a combined business suite on the north side of town along Village Road. Rocky Mountain High also operates a recreational sales outlet, and distinct cultivation operations for each side of the business.

The testing facility, called Green Hill Labs, is the only one of its kind on the Western Slope, according to owner Hilary Glass of Carbondale.

Currently, Glass’ business has yet to begin full operations, she said, explaining that she is busy meeting the state’s “method validation” requirements for her testing methods, and doing some “elective environmentals,” or “information-only” tests for molds and other contaminants in cultivation operations.

Glass, who said she is trained in microbiology and quality assurance, explained that she is from Wisconsin and that the Green Hill Labs is “an offshoot of a family business” that does quality-assurance work for dairy operations back in Wisconsin.

“I go all over Colorado,” she said of her business’ area of operations.

Carbondale also is now home to a business manufacturing MIBs, or edibles, which is named The Magic Buzz and makes primarily energy drinks, according to the town clerk. Attempts to reach the manager of the business this week were unsuccessful.

Derby said her office consistently receives inquiries about opening up a marijuana-related business in Carbondale, although the pace of those contacts has dropped back in recent months.

The town trustees, in an effort to keep a lid on the numbers of local pot businesses, enacted a “cap” of five local licenses per business type, the six types being: recreational sales, medicinal sales, recreational pot farming, medicinal pot farming, MIPs and testing.

That leaves room for a total of 30 pot related businesses in town, but Derby predicted that number will never be met.

For instance, she said, “You’ll never see five testing facilities here,” simply because there is not enough business to sustain that many testing centers.

Derby also doubted if there will be a rush to fill the other potential licenses, due to the complexity and uncertainty surrounding an industry that not only is in its infancy, but is against federal law. The U.S. drug codes decree marijuana to be as dangerous as opiates and puts pot in the same category of the federal drug code as heroin and various hallucinogenics such as LSD and mescaline.

In addition, Derby said, establishing cultivation operations is not easy.

“People are having a hard time finding places to put cultivation operations,” she said, adding that the state regulations governing pot also are very complicated and change as the industry consolidates and the state gets used to its oversight role.

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