Breckenridge Cannabis Club’s story highlights gaps and growth in marijuana policy
Editor’s note: This article has been edited to correct a mistated figure. The Main Street location of Breckenridge Cannabis Club saw roughly $3 million in retail sales last year, not $5 million. The company’s net worth is $5 million between Breckenridge, a Crested Butte store and a grow site.
On a slushy March morning in the thick of spring break season, the newest iteration of Breckenridge Cannabis Club on Airport Road was surprisingly empty.
Two employees chatted quietly behind the small yet attractive bud bar, leaning over glass cases filled with marijuana strains, pre-rolled joints and dozens of additional products: wax, shatter, edibles, glass pipes, T-shirts emblazoned with the dispensary’s new name, Backcountry Cannabis Club.
For nearly 14 months, from the first day of legal retail pot in 2014 to the day Breckenridge quelled downtown pot sales on Feb. 2, BCC was easily one of the most talked-about dispensaries in Summit County, Colorado and — after penning a deal with CNN for an exclusive documentary series, “High Profits” — the nation.
Co-owners Brian Rogers and Caitlin McGuire were the first and only entrepreneurs to open shop on Main Street in Breckenridge — a coveted locale for just about any business in a rapidly growing mountain town. Thousands of curious tourists would wander by their cozy, brown-trimmed cottage to simply catch a glimpse of a new industry on the rise. The storefront even made national news on the advent of legal weed, when a steady stream of customers stretched along the snowy block from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
In the months leading to Feb. 2, BCC was again in the news, this time for a hotly contested public vote to ban all retail marijuana sales on Main Street. As a medical-turned-retail dispensary, BCC was grandfathered into the town’s marijuana laws. But BCC’s retail license didn’t protect it past the end of a five-year lease — a term set when it was allowed to transition from medical to retail — and following six months of debate over the character of downtown Breckenridge, voters opted to keep marijuana off of Main Street, at least for the time being.
“I don’t think anyone on council will be willing to change the current ordinance,” said Councilwoman Elisabeth Lawrence, the sole council member against the Main Street ban. “2014 was the year of marijuana, but I think we are all glad this is behind us. I think everyone is. I’m still disappointed with the way it was handled, the fact that Breckenridge removed a business that was on Main Street for five years.”
For BCC, the vote was more than a momentary setback. A business that went from annual sales of $515,000 to nearly $3 million in 2014 alone was forced to pack up shop and move 2 miles away to Airport Road, where it now quietly operates on the same 1-mile strip as Breckenridge’s four other dispensaries.
“The dispensary owners on Airport Road only cared that things were so-called ‘fair’ — that either everyone could be on Main Street or no one could be,” Lawrence said. “But with many of our decisions, we’re thinking about the guest experience, and that’s what guided my vote. It was easy to see through the sales tax numbers and through BCC, who were very honest about their numbers, how much influence they had on Main Street.”
DEVIL IN THE DETAILS
Like the Main Street vote itself, BCC’s move was far from straightforward. In late January, Rogers and McGuire approached the town council again to pass an emergency ordinance. They wanted more time to stay open on Main Street while waiting for the state to approve their latest application for the new location, a process that takes anywhere from 45 to 60 days, according to information the state gave BCC. The owners argued not only would the dispensary lose business during a possible shutdown, but also roughly 12 employees would be out of work.
The town council didn’t budge. At a meeting on Jan. 27, the council told Rogers and McGuire the situation didn’t warrant an emergency ordinance. With less than a week before the Feb. 2 move, there wasn’t enough time to hold a vote or give public notice.
For dispensary owners across the state, licensing is an intricate and constantly evolving process. Each municipality is allowed to set custom rules and fees to pair with state-mandated regulations. While BCC opened at its new location within a few days of the deadline — Rogers noted at the Jan. 27 meeting the state might be able to fast-track his application — the intricate nature of licensing forces dispensary owners to stay in constant communication with town officials.
After Breckenridge, Frisco has the most retail dispensaries in Summit with three. Town clerk Deborah Wolmuth says she fields one or two calls per week from potential dispensary owners, many of whom aren’t familiar with the town’s strict zoning restrictions for marijuana. She points them to the town code, which includes 11 pages dedicated solely to retail marijuana licensing. From there, it’s the prospective owner’s responsibility to cross t’s and dot i’s, just as it is for any other business, she says.
Frisco won’t issue licenses until the state has approved an application. For a new retail store — not a renewed or converted license, like the one BCC was issued when it switched from medical to retail — applicants pay $8,000 between application and initial licensing fees. Renewals are $3,000, plus $300 per each license, fees that businesses with dual retail and medical licenses must pay.
And that’s just at the state level. A multi-license business like Native Roots in Frisco or Alpenglow, one of BCC’s neighbors on Airport Road and the first dispensary to open in Dillon, can pay upwards of $15,000 annually for two businesses at the state and local levels.
In Dillon, which welcomed Alpenglow Premium Cannabis in early March, officials opted to wait and learn from the mistakes made by other towns. Town manager Tom Breslin said communication is key: The town built a packet and checklist for prospective business owners with required materials, which include an operating plan, property deed or lease, $5,000 operating bond and fingerprints, also required by state law.
“It’s easy to take home a packet, fill it out and think everything is done, but that’s just the start,” Breslin said of the 54 pages of documents. “Whether you’re building a house or opening a dispensary, you have to make sure you’re staying in touch with the proper people. Good communication can always prevent a lot of problems.”
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