Colorado pot-shop owners open up
April 20, 2016
Meet the roundtable
A few days after the first anniversary of legal marijuana, the Summit Daily held two roundtable discussions with players in the local cannabis industry: one for business owners, one for law enforcement and elected officials.
Editor's note: This is part one of a two-part Q&A series. Part two will run in Saturday's paper. The following excerpts were taken from a recorded interview with local marijuana business owners.
It's been one full year of legal marijuana in Colorado, and already the burgeoning industry has changed the face of Summit County.
For cannabis advocates and opponents alike, the county has rapidly become a microcosm for the state's volatile new business. Local business owners and elected officials tackled hundreds of unknowns last year: ever-changing laws, endless media coverage, the previously untapped tourist market, rising concerns over edibles and vape pens.
Despite the unknowns, parties on both sides of the legalization issue believe marijuana is here to stay. The Summit Daily recently sat down with two local business owners, Nick Brown of High Country Healing and Philip Wolf of Cultivating Spirits, to hear their thoughts on the first 365 days since pot went legit – and what they see for the future.
Summit Daily New: We'll start at the very top. The first year of legal marijuana is in the books – how did things go?
Nick Brown: It was a wild, wild year. It was beyond any of our expectations… It was very exciting and very exhausting at the same time, trying to keep up with the unforeseen added demand. It was really tough. It's a plant, and we can't produce more inventory just like that. That plant needs to grow four to eight months to mature, so we've all tried to expand in the meantime, over the past year, just to keep up with demand.
Philip Wolf: We're such an analytical society nowadays, but if you look at the direct numbers this year as opposed to the past five years, 10 years – as far as crime rates, violent crimes, our economy going up – it only points to good things. Now, sure, the pendulum could swing a different way and different things could come and we need a longer time lapse. I can't wait until we're having this conversation 10 years from now, 20 years from now.
Nick Brown: To me, whether you love cannabis, hate cannabis, disagree with it, you have to be intrigued by it.
SDN: Do you think or do you worry that the industry moved too fast, that things came together too quickly in Colorado?
Nick Brown: The sky has not fallen. We've been through a whole year, and if you go ask the police chief down in Silverthorne how many problems he's had with cannabis since legalization on Jan. 1, he will tell you zero, and that's amazing to me. I thought we were moving too fast, I hoped people would respect it, and they really have. I think we've proven that after a year's time, and that's a giant step for this whole movement.
Philip Wolf: We have to do this right because we are under the microscope for the entire world – not just the entire United States, but the entire world. If we go and screw this up, if dispensary owners operate the wrong way, they could ruin it for everybody in the entire world.
Nick Brown: Over half of the cities and counties in Colorado have actually banned recreational marijuana, and medical, so there are only a finite amount of places these businesses can already go. In these towns that already have stores and are allowing it, the spaces they're going to allow it in are used up as well. While it sounds like there's this frenzy going on, there's a major barrier to entrance… Sure, were going to saturate a little bit and we'll see a correction of the market coming in about a year, there's no doubt in my mind about that.
SDN: People for the first year ever have been able to come to Colorado, no matter where they're from, and they're able to use marijuana without a red card. What kind of effect do you think that had on this area in particular, a place where the population can grow from 4,500 people to 25,000?
Philip Wolf: People who are out of the state and able come to Colorado now, it is such a novelty. They're so happy that they can go out and do something they've been doing in the dark for so long. Allowing recreational cannabis to happen in the state of Colorado allowed the tourism business to operate, because now we can offer these tours that are unique to Colorado. People will come and search for that, and people will search for ways to incorporate cannabis into their night.
Nick Brown: I think it's obvious to most of us in the industry, and around the state, that it has had a giant uptick effect for the tourism coming out here. Those of us that chose to be in resort-type towns, we got a little lucky with that… We're starting to already see, especially on the college side of things, the 21-and-up college aged people, they're choosing ski trips every year. Now, when they're choosing between Utah or California or Colorado for a ski trip, I think the legalization of cannabis in Colorado is really pushing that demand.
SDN: Do you feel the state and local governments have done a good job, have handled this industry well?
Nick Brown: I think they've done as a good of a job as they can. I personally never would've wanted their job. They were put into a dark room with blindfolds on and asked to read the letters on the wall. These are people who were asked to make legislation for a plant they may have never consumed in their life, knew nothing about how to manufacture and produce it, and they were trying to give you the rules for something they knew nothing about.
Philip Wolf: It was court cases defining laws in the beginning. That's what it was – you would figure out the law definition based on the outcome of court cases, and that's what we looked at so many times, especially in the early days in the medical scene, in 2009, '10 and '11.
Nick Brown: And we didn't have the court cases as a retail store. You didn't have any court cases – this has never been done before. If you thought you were bending a rule, or mostly in compliance but not fully in compliance, you're sitting there thinking, "S***, are my pants down when the Enforcement Division walks in? I'm not sure." We were really operating in a gray area, and I think the Marijuana Enforcement Division understood that as well, and they also understood that they didn't always understand what those rules meant.
Philip Wolf: If you want to judge things off results, I think every single owner of a dispensary in this state right now is happy. If some people felt like they were going back and forth on laws so much, and trying to wonder what's right and what's wrong, the over-implementation of regulations worked out, based on where we are today.
Nick Brown: Well, it's worked out for a lot of us that are still standing. I feel sorry for a lot of the ones that couldn't quite get it figured out, that overly tried to comply with everything when it was impossible to do and they ran themselves into the ground… A lot of us are risk-takers that are in this business anyway, and we had to continue being risk-takers.
SDN: This is such a hot-button issue, not just in Colorado, but for everyone across the nation. Do you think the media coverage and attention that's been given to this issue is good and healthy?
Nick Brown: We have a nine-page feature in "High Times" this month, and they're doing a giant article on me in the Denver Post. I think the general media and focus this industry has gotten has been extremely good and positive for the industry because I think they've taken a positive stance in general, which has been surprising to me. The positive stance most media outlets have taken goes to show just how widely accepted this plant probably always was.
SDN: As with any industry, this is still in its infancy now. It had to start somewhere, and it's growing.
Nick Brown: And the crazy thing about that is as all these other states continue to legalize – and it's going to happen – they're all going to be five, six, seven years behind Colorado… They're going to need Phil Wolf, they're going to need Nick Brown, and they're probably going to offer us large sums of money to come out there and help them set up what we've been doing for five years.
SDN: And so the future for you guys, hopefully, isn't just stuck in Colorado.
Nick Brown: Even if we wanted to be, it's not going to be.
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