Shawn Phillips of Strainwise was first in line in Denver on Friday, Dec. 27, 2013 to pick up a license for retail marijuana sales.

Denver issues finalized licenses to recreational marijuana stores

Denver’s first recreational marijuana store owners picked up their city licenses Friday, the final step before opening on Jan. 1 among the first shops in the world approved to sell pot to all adults.

Larry Stevenson, the director of safety for the city’s Excise and Licenses Department, repeatedly dinged a service bell Friday morning as a Denver licensing official handed the first license across the counter to Shawn Phillips, the owner of the Strainwise chain of stores. The handful of people in the licensing office — some of whom had lined up as early as 7:15 a.m. to await the office’s 8 a.m. opening — applauded.

“It really hasn’t sunk in yet,” Phillips said of receiving final approval. “We’ve had so much work to do to get ready for Jan. 1.”

Denver has so far given final approval to eight stores, 30 grows and four marijuana-infused products makers. The owners of those businesses could start picking up their completed licenses Friday at 8 a.m.

Marijuana use and limited possession has been legal in Colorado for everyone over 21 for any purpose since last year. But New Year’s Day will mark the start to a more ambitious phase of Colorado’s cannabis evolution: the world’s first fully legal recreational marijuana marketplace.

To be among the historic few open for recreational sales on Jan. 1, store owners — all of whom currently own medical-marijuana businesses — had to, as LoDo Wellness’s Donald Andrews put it, “go through the hoops and the hurdles and dance through the raindrops.”

Stores need both a state and a local license to operate. That means store owners had to navigate twin licensing processes, all while making required upgrades, paying thousands in fees, attending hearings and undergoing necessary inspections before getting the final OK. Businesses in Denver that chose to continue selling to medical-marijuana patients under 21 while also selling to recreational customers over 21 had to go so far as to build a wall between the two sides of their stores.

“It was just time-consuming and required your attention to detail,” said Andrews, who also picked up his store’s Denver license on Friday. “I don’t think anything was that difficult, but it was the sum total of it all.”

Justin Jones, an owner of Dank Colorado, said city officials went out of their way to be helpful during the process.

“It was just hard work,” he said. “It was about all I focused on for the last three weeks.”

With the paperwork now out of the way, store owners are able to focus on the logistical issues surrounding Jan. 1 recreational marijuana sales — such as, will there be enough pot to go around?

Currently, stores have to grow almost all of what they sell. But, with commercial growing for the recreational market not being legal until Jan. 1, either, stores will have to take a bite out of their medical marijuana inventory to meet the demand. That could leave both sides short.

“It’s something we’re all going to have to deal with,” said Randy Good, the general manager of Dixie Elixirs, the first marijuana-infused products company to receive a recreational license in Denver.

Phillips said it won’t be clear until next week how many stores will be able to open on Jan. 1, and it won’t be clear until New Year’s Day morning what the demand for recreational marijuana will be. He said he plans to open only two of Strainwise’s three stores in Denver licensed for recreational sales on Jan. 1. Phillips said he thinks the industry won’t be in full bloom in the city until around April.

“The further you get into the year, the more stores will open up,” he said.

But that slow roll-out didn’t diminish the enthusiasm with the normally staid Denver Excise and Licenses Department on Friday. At one point, while waiting to be called to receive his license, Andrews looked around at the new bureaucracy of marijuana and laughed.

“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “Isn’t it amazing? Police used to arrest you just for holding a joint.”

John Ingold: 303-954-1068, or

Read this story on »