Sara Arbogast of BotanaCare in Northglenn helps customers purchase some recreational marijuana last month. The store is off Interstate 25. (Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post)

Bud in the ‘burbs: Recreational shops scarce outside Denver

No one can dispute that Denver is the king of cannabis in Colorado.

With 75 recreational marijuana stores for the city’s 650,000 residents, the hub of the metro area is well-defined as the epicenter. But for the 2 million living in the suburbs, there are less than a third as many stores, as those areas continue to wrestle with Amendment 64.

In the communities that ring Denver, there are 21 recreational pot shops for the cannabis connoisseur. And depending on where you live, the closest shop can be either three blocks away or three towns off.

Residents of tiny Edgewater have four recreational marijuana stores to choose from, another four in neighboring Wheat Ridge, and one more just up the street in Mountain View.

But potential pot patrons in Highlands Ranch are hard pressed to find a convenient place to legally buy a joint or THC-laced gumdrop. Douglas and Arapahoe counties, and every community they encompass, have either banned or placed a moratorium on recreational pot shops.

Attorney Jeff Gard, who represents marijuana business owners, said the patchwork of pot-friendly and pot-averse communities that have sprung up in Denver’s suburbs resulted directly from language in Colorado’s 2012 pot-legalization law.

Map: Colorado recreational marijuana shops and medical dispensaries

Amendment 64 allows municipalities to decide whether to allow marijuana businesses.

Complications can arise from the hodgepodge in regulations, Gard said.

In communities that allow them, he said, the high demand can put a strain on store inventories, while in places where recreational outlets are absent, black-market sales could flourish.

“It has left us with a highly inconsistent and ever-changing landscape for this business,” he said. “And it has given new life to the illegal market.”

“A very pleasant process”

Jeremy Kindle, general manager of New Age Medical in Edgewater, said his shop has undoubtedly been the beneficiary of the exploding demand for legal weed in the state.

Since New Age added a recreational component to its longtime medical marijuana business on April 1, sales of recreational pot have at times exceeded the medicinal side tenfold.

Kindle credits much of New Age’s success to the attitude that officials in Edgewater show toward pot retailers in the city — charging a nominal licensing fee and keeping red tape to a minimum.

“It’s been a very pleasant process,” he said. “Law enforcement has been very cooperative.”

Kindle also commends Edgewater for not restricting hours of operation beyond what state law permits, allowing shops in the city of 5,200 residents to stay open until midnight. Denver requires its stores to close at 7 p.m.

Edgewater City Manager HJ Stalf said Amendment 64 was approved by 73 percent of the city’s voters. City leaders, he said, took that into account when formulating regulations for the nascent industry.

“There was an open-mindedness about it,” Stalf said. “We had medical marijuana for three or four years, and from a public-safety standpoint, we’d never had any problems and still don’t.”

Edgewater decided it would rather be in a position to monitor pot sales than try to chase down drug deals on the street, he said.

“We’re not in denial that this product is sold — we’d rather have a businessperson with a storefront than someone in the back alley,” Stalf said. “We feel it’s better to deal with it in an upfront, businesslike manner than to pretend it doesn’t exist.”

Eye on Aurora: Coverage of the plans underway to bring recreational marijuana sales to Aurora starting Oct. 1

Eva Woolhiser, co-owner of Northern Lights Cannabis, said her suburban location has advantages over being in Denver, which is just on the other side of Sheridan Boulevard.

Woolhiser said her location on the western outskirts of Denver means that many of her customers hail from the western suburbs, such as Lakewood and Golden, where moratoriums on recreational pot shops are in effect, or Morrison, where the businesses are banned.

A world map inside Northern Lights decorated with countless push pins left by visiting customers also illustrates that not only is Woolhiser’s shop a destination for suburbanites looking to get high, but that a marijuana business in the suburbs can be just as much a destination for the globe-trotting pot user as a store in Denver.

Sales have been good

That has definitely been the case for BotanaCare, which relies on the travelers on Interstate 25 to bring the curious through the doors of the Northglenn pot shop.

Cheri Hackett, BotanaCare’s co-owner, said she has customers from all over the world but counts on those living in Denver’s northern suburbs for repeat business. With only one shop in Northglenn to compete with — recreational marijuana stores are prohibited in Arvada, Westminster, Broomfield, Thornton, Brighton and Commerce City — sales have been good.

Hackett said she can get 250 to 300 recreational pot customers in her store a day compared with 50 medical users, and she brings in extra staff during the evening rush. In the parking lot, a small billboard with the message “Don’t Drive Impaired,” along with the store’s name, looks out on the busy highway.

“Traffic jams are wonderful,” Hackett said. “I hated traffic until I got here.”

Read the rest of the story about pot in Denver’s suburbs

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