Meg Krug is a budtender at Dank, a pot shop in Denver. (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

Barrier reefer: Dispensaries face obstacles serving under-21 patients

As walls go, Greg Gamet’s is a monster.

It cost Gamet and his partners — owners of the Dank Colorado marijuana store in Denver — about $80,000 in renovations to put up. There were extra permits and inspections involved. And it all had to be done on a rushed schedule so that Dank Colorado could be among the nation’s first licensed recreational marijuana stores to open Jan. 1.

But Gamet said the ordeal was worth it because the wall keeps separate the two hemispheres of his shop’s world: the recreational marijuana side and the medical marijuana side.

“The product is similar,” Gamet said, “but other than that, they’re two completely different businesses.”

Given the costs and headaches, though, it’s little wonder that most shops aren’t following Dank’s lead.

Map — Colorado dispensaries and recreational stores

Almost all of the medical marijuana businesses in Colorado that have applied to open recreational shops chose to hang on to their medical sides, as well. Only four out of the 171 stores that have either applied to open or are already licensed by the state for recreational sales made a full conversion, according to state figures.

Those stores that kept both recreational and medical marijuana sides faced a problem. Recreational pot shops can sell only to people 21 and over. But medical marijuana dispensaries can serve younger customers. If a store wants to keep selling to under-21 medical marijuana patients, state law requires it to build a wall between the two sides and give them separate entrances.

In Denver, businesses that do so are known as “co-located” stores, and they make up the minority of shops that have applied with the city for recreational sales. Only 28 of the 117 stores that have applied in Denver intend to build a wall, according to the city.

The other 89 are what the city calls “co-terminus” stores, meaning they sell both medical and recreational marijuana in the same space and all customers — including medical marijuana patients — have to be at least 21.

Industry advocates say stores putting up walls are finding it difficult. The construction costs, as well as the added permits and inspections, complicate what Mike Elliott, the executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, said is already a complicated process.

“It’s already challenging enough to open the business for recreational sales without doing that,” he said.

What the walls buy for the stores is the ability to serve a tiny slice of Colorado’s medical marijuana market. Less than 5 percent of Colorado’s medical marijuana patients are under 21, according to state Health Department statistics. The average age of the state’s roughly 110,000 medical marijuana patients is 42.

Resources — Colorado marijuana guide: 64 of your questions, answered

But Gamet said the wall keeps the culture of the different businesses separate, too. While the recreational side of Dank Colorado has seen heavy traffic and quick turnaround, Gamet said customers on the medical side generally prefer to take their time when making purchases and discuss the properties of different marijuana strains.

“It’s more of an intimate environment,” he said. “We built our business on medical marijuana. So for us to be able to service our medical patients effectively, they needed a separate entrance.”

John Ingold: 303-954-1068, or

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