COLORADO: Colorado marked a new marijuana milestone on Tuesday when it became the first state in United States history to begin taking applications from people wanting to open legal recreational marijuana stores.
The first applicants arrived at the Marijuana Enforcement Division’s offices south of downtown Denver shortly before 9 a.m., carrying heavy boxes and bulging binders. Just after 9, Andy Williams, the owner of the Medicine Man medical-marijuana dispensary, stepped into an office conference room to become one of the first to submit an application.
“We’re excited,” Williams said. “Some folks are afraid to be first, but we welcome it.”
Despite the momentous occasion, the scene inside the Marijuana Enforcement Division’s offices was surprisingly orderly. In contrast to three years ago — when the state’s first medical-marijuana business applicants crowded into licensing offices in a literal display of the Colorado marijuana rush — applications this time were submitted by appointment only.
As of Tuesday morning, the state had scheduled 50 appointments for people wanting to open recreational marijuana stores, growing facilities and infused-products operations. Another 10 appointments are waiting to be finalized, and a dozen more businesses have e-mailed requesting appointments.
All the available appointments for Tuesday and Wednesday have been booked, said John Seckman, the agent in charge of licensing and background checks for the Marijuana Enforcement Division, or MED.
“I’m a little surprised that Thursday and Friday we don’t have that many appointments,” Seckman said.
The orderly process — MED officials stressed that they had learned from past licensing chaos — was partly due to planning but also partly due to limitations on who can apply right now to open a recreational marijuana store. Until July, only people who already own a medical-marijuana dispensary can apply to open a recreational store, creating a smaller pool of potential applicants who are already well versed in MED rules. MED officials greeted many applicants by name Tuesday.
All businesses that have applications accepted during the month of October will receive a decision on that application by Jan. 1, the first day recreational marijuana stores can open in Colorado, said Julie Postlethwait, a MED spokeswoman. Incomplete applications will not be accepted, and business owners who submit them will have to complete the applications and schedule a new appointment before the applications will be accepted.
“The key part is getting the complete application,” Postlethwait said.
After accepting an application, MED officials will forward a copy to the local government where the proposed business would be based. Larry Stevenson, with Denver’s Excise and Licenses Department, was at MED’s offices Tuesday to pick up applications submitted that morning. He said the city could have as many as 10 appointments Tuesday afternoon to review and accept local license applications.
“Today is Day One,” Stevenson said. “We want to get this right on Day One.”
Would-be business owners were required to e-mail in advance for an appointment time. When they arrived Tuesday, they walked to a lectern with a piece of paper reading, “Retail Business Check-in” taped to it. They were then quickly directed into one of the Marijuana Enforcement Division’s conference rooms, where a gun-carrying MED investigator went through their application step-by-step.
Applicants had to provide financial information, floor plans for their stores, security plans, a certificate of good standing from the Colorado secretary of state’s office, a signed lease for their business space and a sales tax bond. They also had to hand over their application and licensing fees. For Williams, the amount was over $17,000 for his store and associated growing facility — and he still needed to pay his licensing fee for his Denver license later in the day.
In the end, though, Williams learned he would need to come back on Wednesday to supplement his state application. Though his sales tax bond had been approved, it had not actually come through yet — just one of the hassles of being first.