As of Friday, anyone looking to get their hands on recreational pot and marijuana-infused edibles won’t even have to venture outside downtown Fort Collins.
Organic Alternatives, 346 E. Mountain Ave., will open its doors to retail sales Friday at 10 a.m., making it the first Fort Collins dispensary to venture into the growing market. The day will mark the culmination of years of campaigning for pro-pot regulation and public education efforts by the business’s owner, Steve Ackerman.
“We expect it to be popular. We’re not just inside the city limits of Fort Collins, but we’re in Old Town. We’re very central,” Ackerman said Tuesday.
The City of Fort Collins on Sept. 17, 2013 adopted a temporary ban on retail marijuana establishments within the city. While hundreds of retails shops have sprouted across Colorado since New Year’s Day – and only a few within Northern Colorado, primarily Garden City near Greeley – Fort Collins staffers took additional time to fine-tune a regulatory framework and conduct more public outreach.
That temporary ban on marijuana establishments lasted until March 31, 2014. Organic Alternatives jumped at the opportunity, and on Friday, Ackerman received the license from the city.
The caramel-chocolate flavored candy bar looked so innocent, like the Sky Bars I used to love as a child.
Sitting in my hotel room in Denver, I nibbled off the end and then, when nothing happened, nibbled some more. I figured if I was reporting on the social revolution rocking Colorado in January, the giddy culmination of pot Prohibition, I should try a taste of legal, edible pot from a local shop.
What could go wrong with a bite or two?
Everything, as it turned out.
Not at first. For an hour, I felt nothing. I figured I’d order dinner from room service and return to my more mundane drugs of choice, chardonnay and mediocre-movies-on-demand.
But then I felt a scary shudder go through my body and brain. I barely made it from the desk to the bed, where I lay curled up in a hallucinatory state for the next eight hours. I was thirsty but couldn’t move to get water. Or even turn off the lights. I was panting and paranoid, sure that when the room-service waiter knocked and I didn’t answer, he’d call the police and have me arrested for being unable to handle my candy.
I strained to remember where I was or even what I was wearing, touching my green corduroy jeans and staring at the exposed-brick wall. As my paranoia deepened, I became convinced that I had died and no one was telling me.
It took all night before it began to wear off, distressingly slowly. The next day, a medical consultant at an edibles plant where I was conducting an interview mentioned that candy bars like that are supposed to be cut into 16 pieces for novices; but that recommendation hadn’t been on the label.
I reckoned that the fact that I was not a regular marijuana smoker made me more vulnerable, and that I should have known better. But it turns out, five months in, that some kinks need to be ironed out with the intoxicating open bar at the Mile High Club.
Colorado raked in about $12.6 million the first three months after pot was legalized for adults 21 and over. Pot party planners are dreaming up classy events: the Colorado Symphony just had its first “Classically Cannabis” fund-raiser with joints and Debussy. But the state is also coming to grips with the darker side of unleashing a drug as potent as marijuana on a horde of tourists of all ages and tolerance levels seeking a mellow buzz.
In March, a 19-year-old Wyoming college student jumped off a Denver hotel balcony after eating a pot cookie with 65 milligrams of THC. In April, a Denver man ate pot-infused Karma Kandy and began talking like it was the end of the world, scaring his wife and three kids. Then he retrieved a handgun from a safe and killed his wife while she was on the phone with an emergency dispatcher.
As Jack Healy reported in The Times on Sunday, Colorado hospital officials “are treating growing numbers of children and adults sickened by potent doses of edible marijuana” and neighboring states are seeing more stoned drivers.
“We realized there was a problem because we’re watching everything with the urgency of the first people to regulate in this area,” said Andrew Freedman, the state’s director of marijuana coordination. “There are way too many stories of people not understanding how much they’re eating. With liquor, people understand what they’re getting themselves into. But that doesn’t exist right now for edibles for new users in the market. It would behoove the industry to create a more pleasant experience for people.
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The recreational marijuana business is in full bloom in Colorado. In just the first three months since marijuana was legalized, the state has raised $25 million from businesses for taxes, licenses, and fees, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue.
Looking forward, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper predicts combined sales from recreational and medical cannabis (which has been legal for 14 years) will reach $1 billion by 2015, with $134 million going to the state. These numbers make clear that the nascent industry is not some Cheech and Chong joke; it’s a serious business with well-defined rules and laws.
To help startups and small businesses navigate regulatory issues, cannabis industry tech firm Surna held the first Colorado Cannabis Summit on Thursday in Denver, featuring panels on state and federal laws, taxes and banking, branding, and employee training and safety.
Meg Collins, the executive director of Colorado-based trade group Cannabis Business Alliance, says about 500 companies have launched around the recreational marijuana industry since the law changed in January, including growers, dispensaries, and tech firms providing seed-to-sale tracking software.
The summit ”gave people a good view of how committed this state is to regulating this industry, how committed the industry is to being regulated, and the partnership of the two to work together to create lasting businesses,” Collins, who moderated the taxes and regulations panel, tells Inc.
Below, read a Q&A with Collins about the evolution of the industry, the challenges of marijuana still being illegal at the federal level, and what companies are doing to be taken seriously.
Inc.: What do you need to do to get into the recreational marijuana business?
Meg Collins: At the statute level, you need to already be a medical marijuana licensee [until July 1, when that rule disappears] in order to apply for a recreational license. It’s a good idea to be well capitalized. You need to pass a background check, you have to be a two-year Colorado resident, you have to have a real estate location already–whether you want to be a cultivator, a store, or an edibles manufacturer–and you need to have the seed-to-sale tracking system. On the cultivation side, you need to have a system that tracks every plant from the moment it’s a clone and gets tagged. That tag number stays with the plant all the way through the process, whether it’s turned into a joint, made into oil, or used in the manufacture of an edible product. This makes sure there’s no diversion.
Pueblo County is evolving into the place to be for pot growers, a distinction that is creating concerns among some residents and at least one law enforcement official who says such operations are attractive to drug cartels.
The Pueblo County Commission, however, sees the grow operations as an impetus for revenue and jobs.
The commission has approved about 20 so far, Commissioner Sal Pace said, and more are coming.
“We put a cap on the number of retail stores in Pueblo – 10 – but no cap on the grows,” he said.
Road to Legalization
While county officials see grow operations as a potential economic driver, not everybody is buying in. Some residents in Pueblo West, a sprawling residential area of about 28,000 where many of the marijuana operations are just starting to fight back.
On May 20, the county commissioners approved five licenses, but not without opposition from Pueblo West residents.
The commissioners “are changing the fabric of our community without asking what we want,” said Paula McPheeters, who has lived there for about 17 years.
McPheeters is at the vanguard of a groundswell of opposition to the marijuana industry’s growing impact in her community. She presented a petition to the commissioners signed by about 40 Pueblo West residents against approval of any more pot businesses in their area during the May 20 meeting.
The commissioners approved all applications unanimously.
There is an emerging trend in the marijuana industry in Colorado.
An influx of women are running these businesses—whether it’s retail pot shops, manufacturing edible products infused with cannabis or working in testing labs.
At this week’s first-ever Colorado Cannabis Summit in Denver, the entire panel of local experts on safety and technology was made up of women.
“I like to call them the marijuana mavens,” said Brooke Gehring, a former mortgage banker who now owns four pot stores in Colorado.
“It blows my mind, the incredible women I’ve met in this industry,” said Genifer Murray, founder and CEO of CannLabs, a state-certified lab that tests the potency and safety of recreational pot products.
Murray said so many women have come into the industry that even though they often compete against each other, they’re starting a group called Women Grow to mentor the next generation of female cannabis entrepreneurs.
“My lab director’s a woman, the director of my micro department is a woman, I have a couple other women lab techs, and I was so excited when I looked through resumes and there were a lot of women!”
During just the first two months of 2014, the state of Colorado has pulled in more than $6 million in tax revenue from the sale of marijuana.
On Jan. 1, Colorado became the first state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Any resident of the state 21 years old and up can buy marijuana and marijuana derived products.
And business is booming.
Business at Medicine Man Denver, one the state’s largest marijuana dispensaries, has tripled since January, according to employee Elan Nelson.
“We have a serious case of plant overload right now,” Nelson said. “We’re actually expanding onto the other side of this building to an additional 20,000 square feet.”
Nelson said a lot of benefits have come from the legalization of marijuana in Colorado like tax revenues, job creation and insularly businesses.
But it is not a free-for-all. The state government has put strict rules into effect that go along with the growing and selling of marijuana. The law requires extensive tracking of each plant grown.
In Medicine Man Denver’s vegetative grow room, each plant is tagged and tracked by the state. Plants are even color coded to indicate whether it is to be used for recreational or medicinal purposes.
Taylor West with the National Cannabis Industry Association said marijuana shouldn’t be openly sold to just anyone.
“What we’re saying is that it is a product that can be and should be regulated and taxed in a way similar to how we handle alcohol,” West said.
To West, the legalization of marijuana makes sense.
“We’re talking billions and billions of dollars that are currently on an underground market with nobody checking IDs, nobody verifying the product purity, or that it’s free of contaminants,” West said.
In North Carolina, Ignacio Almazan, Raleigh chapter coordinator of N.C. Normal, said the Tar Heel State is missing out on $250 million in tax revenue a year.
“Just look at Colorado. They’re pulling in money left and right,” Almazan said.
Some North Carolina lawmakers believe the legalization of marijuana is too dangerous.
“Just because people are doing it and violating the law, doesn’t mean we should make something legal,” said Rep. Tim Moore (R-Cleveland).
Moore believes marijuana is a gateway drug that will lead to other addictions.
DENVER, CO — Marijuana has already generated Colorado nearly $25 million in revenue since legalization, between taxes, licenses, and fees.
Before it even became legal to sell recreational marijuana on Jan. 1 of this year, the state had already collected over $3 million in licensing fees.
And in the first three months of this year alone, Colorado’s raked in nearly $22 million — over $16 million of that was in taxes, the rest in license and application fees — according to a report from the Colorado Department of Revenue.
The license and application fees may represent the boom of a new economy, and might eventually slow as that market stabilizes and fewer new shops open.
Still, the tax revenue so far continues to climb month to month, as recreational sales jumped to $19 million in March — up nearly a third from $14 million in February.
But despite the excitement of recreational weed, medical marijuana — which has been legal in Colorado since 2000 — still outsells casual pot by a large margin.
Medical sales in March were over $34 million, $15 million more than recreational. Taxes are much higher on recreational sales than on medical, so recreational weed could generate more tax revenue for the state than medical as the market continues to grow.
In a report issued in February, Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) predicted a combined $1 billion dollars in sales between medical and recreational cannabis, and estimated the state could stand to bank up to $134 million in taxes and fees during 2014-15 fiscal year.
(Reuters) – The Colorado legislature on Wednesday voted to create the nation’s first state-run financial cooperative for marijuana sellers, with the aim of giving newly legalized cannabis retail outlets access to key banking services through the U.S. Federal Reserve.
The approval of the so-called “cannabis credit co-ops” came on the final day of the legislative session, as lawmakers seek to address problems marijuana retailers face in having to operate on a cash-only basis, such as burglary threats.
The proposal’s chief sponsor, Representative Jonathan Singer, said the cooperatives are needed because traditional banks and credit unions have been hesitant to serve the burgeoning marijuana industry as long as the drug remains outlawed by the U.S. government.
“This is the final piece to our pot puzzle,” said Singer, a Democrat.
The final approval on Wednesday came after both chambers of the General Assembly cleared their own versions of the bill. The bill now heads to Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper for his signature.
Voters in Colorado and Washington state legalized the possession and use of small amounts of cannabis by adults for recreational purposes in 2012. Both states are among 20 that allow the use of cannabis for medical reasons.
The first recreational cannabis shops opened in Colorado in January, and Washington is set to follow suit later this year.
It’s OK to sell pot in Colorado, but there’s still nowhere but the mattress to legally stash the proceeds.
That’s the continuing problem for legal marijuana dealers in the state, who are caught between the state’s legalization of cannabis and federal laws that still classify it as a controlled substance.
Colorado had been crafting a plan to address the issue, but the proposed law was scotched late Thursday. It would have allowed state-licensed marijuana businesses, which can’t legally access the regular banking system, to create a financial co-op, something akin to an uninsured credit union.
Republican state Rep. Kevin Priola, who sponsored an amendment to table the measure, says lawmakers need to “take some time to have this properly vetted.” But representatives from both political parties had expressed reservations about the legislation.
AURORA, Colo. – Colorado’s marijuana experiment is threatened by the popularity of eating it instead of smoking it, leading the pot industry to join health officials and state regulators to try to curb the problem of consumers ingesting too much weed.
A task force gathered Wednesday to start brainstorming ways to educate consumers, including a standard warning system on popular edibles, which is the industry term for marijuana that has been concentrated and infused into food or drink.
One idea was to fashion labels on edible pot like the difficulty guidelines on ski slopes, a system very familiar to Colorado residents. Weak marijuana products would have green dots, grading up to black diamonds for the most potent edibles.
“From our perspective, the sooner the better,” said Ron Kammerzell from the Colorado department of revenue.
Serving size is a big concern. A marijuana infused brownie, is not meant to be consumed all at once.
Yet despite warnings, people are eating several doses at the same time…and getting into trouble.
“We should have a marking so that when people come in, they know what they’re getting,” said Chris Halsor of the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council.
Marijuana-infused foods are booming in the state’s new recreational market.