COLORADO: Leaf Aspen medical marijuana dispensary co-owner Jesse Miller is following state and local jurisdiction lawmakers closely this year. He, like every other marijuana business owner in the state, could easily miss an important detail if he stops paying attention even for a day.
“We have an attorney, but we don’t pay him to follow this,” Miller said. “I track it. I read all the rules when they come out to make sure we’re compliant.”
Miller has had plenty of reading material in 2013. Since voters approved Amendment 64 last year, legalizing recreational marijuana use in the state, lawmakers have been scrambling to get the proper rules in the books before new retail marijuana businesses are permitted to open in 2014.
But even with final rules adopted by the state’s Marijuana Enforcement Division that take effect Oct. 15, the need for yet another round of rule making arose when the State Licensing Authority identified four public safety issues — an interim production cap for retail marijuana cultivation, concentrate production safety, edible product consumer safety and mandatory testing and random sampling — during the process.
What it means is the state laws are still being written, making it hard for municipalities to write their own laws on the matter. Local governments across the state, including many mountain towns and counties, have chosen to put moratoriums on retail business applications until the industry’s challenges become more apparent.
Miller said that complicates things for medical business owners who want to make the switch to retail. Medical shops have to grow their plants mostly in industrial warehouses, which are often located tens of miles away from the actual dispensaries. Miller’s current medical grow operation is near Carbondale, and now he’s looking into getting a new grow facility in Rifle for recreational plants.
“For us as an entity, Aspen isn’t the local authority we have to deal with,” Miller said. “That’s where it gets tricky.”
State law is only allowing medical marijuana business owners the chance to apply for retail licenses for the first six months before opening it up to other applicants next June. But in Aspen, three new medical applicants popped up before the state’s Oct. 1 deadline when medical businesses had to be established in order to apply for retail.
The Aspen City Council is expected to vote Tuesday on whether the city should restrict the number of retail businesses to the same number of medical businesses established by Oct. 1, 2013.
Miller doesn’t like the mad rush for last-minute medical licenses, especially when he’s been in business for three years and has built up town relationships and respect.
“The last thing we want after having been good, upstanding citizens in doing this, is for some yahoo to come running in here with his eyes set on XGames and is just selling crap and then disappears,” Miller said. “Then we all get a bad name.”
Miller also doesn’t see how those businesses will be able to supply their operations with enough marijuana. The state is giving the first retail shop owners a one-time opportunity to supply their retail inventories with up to half of their medical plants. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be enough time to grow new plants specifically for recreational use by the opening date of Jan. 1, 2014.
While that’s the law today, some business owners aren’t sure what will be the case when the retail stores can actually start opening. Todd Carstens, a co-owner at Greenwerks in Glenwood Springs, said the rules and regulations are constantly changing.
“Since we started, it’s been like trying to hit a moving target all the time,” Carstens said. ‘It’s been tough’
In Frisco, Medical Marijuana of the Rockies owner Jerry Olson said he has all the legal information he can deal with right now. He’s working on a retail application, too, and is running into everything from strict zoning laws to financing challenges.
“In the medical industry up here in the mountains, we’re just getting by,” Olson said. “There’s a bigger population down in the city.”
Because marijuana is still illegal under federal law, marijuana business owners in Colorado can’t walk into a federally insured bank to get a loan. Most business owners can’t do any personal banking, either, if their marijuana business is their primary source of income.
“You’ve got to get a loan from someone other than a bank,” Olson said. “There’s not a lot of money around these days.”
Olson is considering selling small amounts of stock in his business to get the cash flow needed for retail, but he hasn’t made any commitments yet.
Carstens and his ownership group had to raise capital before they opened their businesses (they have two more locations in Denver). It’s also been hard to accept credit cards.
“Once they find out what you do they cut you off and you have to find a new merchant services account,” he said. “It’s been tough.”