A decade later, Summit County marijuana experts reflect on legalization 

Pictured is the inside of Altitude Organic's recreational location in Dillon, Colorado. Chief operating officer, Luther Bonow, said the past 10 years of recreational marijuana legalization have been a roller coaster that's been consistently going up. However, recent regulations on the medical marijuana industry may not bode well for business, he said.
Luther Bonow/Courtesy photo

If there’s one thing folks in the marijuana industry can agree on, it’s that the process Colorado chose when legalizing weed in the early 2010s was well thought out and successful. 

In a 2012 vote, recreational weed was officially legalized in Colorado. In 2014, sales of the drug began with all eyes on how the process would unfold in Colorado, according to the Associated Press

Some folks who were either paying attention at the time or were already involved in the cannabis business have said they were impressed by the regulations Colorado put in place to roll out the drug safely.However, one expert thinks heavy regulations may have some negative effects on the industry over time.

Johnny Welsh, is a local bartender and the author of “Weedgalized in Colorado,” a book focused on the public perception of recreational marijuana sales that unfolded in 2014.

Welsh reported that an atmosphere of excitement surrounded Summit County’s local conversation. 

He was working as a bartender at 5th Street Grill at the time and said each day was filled with talk among customers about their opinion on the matter. 

“It was a fun conversation,” Welsh said. “Everyone at the bar was engaged in it, and everyone kind of chimed in and chipped in and gave their two cents on both sides of the coin — the good, the bad and the funny.”

Welsh also interviewed dispensary owners and entrepreneurs for his book. He said they were extremely excited as well.

“I wanted to capture that moment in time,” Welsh said. “It was an unprecedented time in our history where we had a product that was illegal for over 80-something years, starting in the 1930s, and I wanted to capture that time because it was historical — it was kind of like repealing prohibition.”

From revising laws to the growth of the industry in such a short amount of time, Welsh said he was impressed with how the state was able to adapt. 

Ethan Shean, who has worked for Strawberry Fields Cannabis for almost 10 years, said Colorado laid the foundation for how the marijuana industry should unfold.

“I think they did a fair job at building the regulatory structure and making sure that cannabis was a success,” Shean said. 

In fact, that’s what brought him to the cannabis industry. Shean had worked in pharmaceuticals, but he saw the quick rollout of what he called a “good system” in Colorado and wanted to get involved.

What impressed Shean was the due diligence that was done to ensure that no black market inventory made it into legal channels.

“I think the rules and regulations that were set up in the seed-to-sale tracking from the state-mandated software metric did an exceptional job,” Shean said. 

This meant “heavily regulated inventory reconciliation,” which meant inventory was consistent and tracked from where it was planted to when it was sold.

However, as time has gone on, recently-increased regulations may not be beneficial to the medical marijuana business, according to Luther Bonow, the chief operations officer of Altitude Organic, a recreational cannabis store in Dillon. 

Bonow also opened one of the very first medical dispensaries in Colorado Springs. 

He entered the cannabis business because he believed in the healing effects of the drug. Bonow’s brother had multiple sclerosis and his mother died from cancer. Besides wanting to deliver a quality product to consumers, Bonow also strives to help others. 

“My mom didn’t even know about it,” Bonow said. “But if she would have known about it, she might have laughed a little bit more before she died.”

He says the first decade of legalization has been very positive for his company and others. 

“Every single year, it was a roller coaster ride,” Bonow said. “But at the end of the year, it was a roller coaster that was still going up.”

However, Bonow thinks regulations have recently gotten more intense for medical marijuana. Where patients only needed to visit one doctor to get a medical card 10 years ago, people now have to visit multiple health professionals and fill out paperwork through the state, which he says puts a barrier to those seeking medical relief. 

“If anyone really needs to get medical marijuana, it’s gonna cost them deep in your pocketbook, and that’s why a lot of people are just moving to the (recreational) market because it doesn’t cost anything to be 21 and up,” Bonow said. 

While things have become complicated in the past year on the medical side, Bonow said folks will still make cannabis a priority when it comes to using it for medical purposes.

“People still need it even if they aren’t severely sick,” Bonow said. “It really helps some people with anxiety, personal problems  — people need something when times are tough.”

At the end of the day, Bonow said marijuana helps people feel better through laughter, conversation and pain regulation.

“It’s really changed a lot of people’s minds here in Colorado,” he said.

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