Colorado will make history when retail marijuana shops open their doors on Wednesday, but the pot landscape isn’t going to change much in Larimer County.
“It’s not like there’s going to be a dispensary on every corner,” county planner Michael Whitley said.
In Loveland, they won’t be on any corner.
“When I tried to rectify in my own mind what’s the cost/benefit to doing this, I didn’t believe we had a good benefit,” Loveland Mayor Cecil Gutierrez said. “I thought it was going to cost us more to regulate them, so I couldn’t justify the amount of time we were going to ask our staff to put into this.”
His constituents tended to agree, and the city voted to ban retail marijuana establishments. The same went for Berthoud, Estes Park, Wellington, Windsor, Johnstown and Timnath.
In Larimer County, only Fort Collins voted to allow retail, though the city is currently working under a temporary ban that isn’t expected to lift until at least March.
That means county residents looking to buy marijuana on Jan. 1 will likely be driving to Denver, which is home to 14 of the 24 retail operations opening this week. There will also be two in Edgewater, two in Telluride, two in Central City, and one each in Northglenn, Idaho Springs, Pueblo West and Breckenridge.
Retail pot’s relatively low-key debut in Colorado may bloom in coming months, but not by much. On Dec. 23, the Colorado Department of Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division mailed 348 retail marijuana licenses to prospective establishments, though only 136 of those apply to retail stores, while the rest are spread throughout three other sub-groups: cultivation facilities, manufacturing facilities and testing facilities.
Larimer County is operating with the same four license types, and has voted to allow two licenses per category. For the time being, though, the eight available licenses apply only to unincorporated Larimer County. Choice Organics, located east of Fort Collins, is primed to begin retail sales in March, and Flower Power Botanicals may follow suit. The rest of the county licenses are up for grabs.
The county commissioners have the ability to change those numbers, but that may not happen for a while.
“It’s not something we’re going to necessarily evaluate on an annual basis,” Whitley said. “We don’t have any plans right now of adjusting. I think we’re going to take a wait-and-see attitude, then maybe evaluate it in five or 10 years.”
The lack of approved pot establishments in the county and statewide can be explained by extremely high barriers to entry.
For starters, businesses can’t even apply for retail unless they’re already licensed to sell medical marijuana and, in the words of the Marijuana Enforcement Division, “in good standing with the state.” Those looking to break into the industry will have to wait until July 2014, when new entrants will first be considered.
Established dispensaries don’t have it much easier. They have to obtain state licenses as well as local ones. The 136 state-approved prospective retail stores must all get the OK from their respective jurisdiction’s local authorities before they may begin operating retail.
In Larimer County, that means passing public hearings with both the county’s planning commission, which is concerned mainly with applicants’ land uses, and the board of commissioners, which is more interested in background checks that may include a prospective retailer’s criminal history and moral standing.
Local authorities also have the power to adapt the languages associated with the four license types, as long as they don’t contradict a state regulation. Larimer County took that liberty with its manufacturing licenses, limiting infused products to oils, tinctures and topical ointments. So even if the eight available licenses are all accounted for, pot brownies won’t be for sale anytime soon around here.
While Loveland’s pot scene won’t look much different on Wednesday, Gutierrez said that may be for the best.
“I’m not hearing that much from people about it,” he said. “This has not really been a topic of conversation that’s been big in Loveland. We had a flurry of activity when the medical marijuana came into play, but since then there’s been very little discussion about it. When it came to this most recent round, most city councilors felt that, overwhelmingly, the people who didn’t want the dispensaries weren’t that interested in having (retail) in our town.”
“It is still illegal at the federal level, and trying to deal with that can become problematic,” Gutierrez added. “Our police officers are in an iffy situation in a lot of regards, I think. And I couldn’t figure out a way to rectify that problem between the federal and the state.”
Alex Burness can be reached at 970-669-5050 ext. 521 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Alex_Burness.