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H.P. Hansen talks marijuana, the hog ain’t that fat

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H.P. Hansen talks marijuana; the hog ain’t that fat

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By Bob Ward

Sopris Sun Correspondent

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The advent of legal, recreational marijuana in Colorado may be a social and political watershed, but H.P. Hansen doesn’t expect an economic explosion.

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Hansen owns a medical marijuana dispensary in Carbondale and is perfectly positioned to capitalize on the Jan. 1 legalization of the substance across the state. But he also knows that most marijuana users — medical, recreational or whatever — already have their suppliers and the user population won’t magically multiply when the state law changes.

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“I’m not expecting a big land rush here, I’m really not,” said Hansen, owner of The Center, located in the alley behind Russets restaurant on Main Street. “I think that anyone who wants to be smoking marijuana already is.”

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Hansen does think the sheer novelty of being able to walk into a retail store and buy pot — something Americans to date have only experienced in places like Amsterdam — may produce an uptick in customers at his shop and others. Down the road, Colorado and the Roaring Fork Valley may even develop a “marijuana tourism” industry to complement all the other attractions that bring people to the Centennial State.

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“I think there are definitely possibilities,” he said. “Maybe they have a pot tour, like a wine tour.”

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Hansen, who was once a Carbondale Board of Trustees member himself, thinks the town’s governing board has been smart and open-minded in its approach to marijuana regulation. Both the town and the state intend to put marijuana taxation questions to the voters in November, mainly in order to pay the costs of the regulatory, enforcement and education programs associated with marijuana. Additionally, the town trustees have agreed to cap the number of local marijuana outlets at five; allow all four kinds of marijuana licenses — retail, cultivation, manufacture and testing; prohibit the establishment of marijuana businesses in close proximity to schools and day care centers; and prohibit public consumption of marijuana, much as town ordinance bars public alcohol consumption.

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“The state and the town have both been really, really good to deal with,” Hansen said. “They’ve always been helpful and they’re not out to try and trip you up.”

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The biggest change that Hansen has seen in his three to four years in the medical marijuana business has been his own discovery of the true medicinal benefits of cannabis. “Originally I thought the whole medical marijuana concept was just a cute way to back into legalization,” he admitted. “I’ve gone through a massive transformation and education on the medical abilities of cannabis oil.”

Having seen the way cannabis in various forms has relieved pain and discomfort for clients with everything from migraine headaches to sciatica to nausea to skin conditions, Hansen expects cannabis oils, edibles, pills and ointments to rapidly enter the mainstream.

Public perception

Most Americans no longer think of marijuana as a dangerous drug, he said, and research continues to open up other possibilities for its beneficial use. To Hansen, marijuana has occupied a strange and unique place in American life for the better part of a century — illegal across the country but still easily and widely available to anyone who wants it.

Instead of visiting the nearest store, however, a first-time pot buyer would simply ask a pot-smoking friend or acquaintance where to find some weed. “It was everywhere but it was still totally illegal,” Hansen said, with an ironic smile.

Of course, when something is both illegal and everywhere, thinking citizens begin to ask themselves about the efficacy and relevance of their laws. To Hansen, Colorado’s rapid transformation — first to medical marijuana and more recently to recreational marijuana — has been a welcome “blink of common sense.” He feels the same way about the federal government’s recent policy statement that it will not sue to prevent marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington states.

On Aug. 29, Justice Department officials announced their intent to take a hands-off approach to marijuana prosecution in the two states, as long as the states create tightly regulated markets that prevent interstate smuggling, keep marijuana out of the hands of minors and address potential public health problems.

“It’s a first and it’s a huge step,” said Hansen, who as a former Carbondale Board of Trustees member has some public policy experience himself. Just as alcohol is inappropriate for minors, Hansen said, so is marijuana. He supports a legal infrastructure that strives to keep retail marijuana activity away from schools and keep the substance out of kids’ hands.

“If kids abuse it, they’re going to have arrested development,” he said.

Nonetheless, he added, minors who want to smoke pot will likely find a way to obtain it, just as adults have. And he doesn’t think the legality or illegality of the substance will play an influential role. He doubts the existence of three medical marijuana dispensaries in Carbondale has had a significant effect on marijuana use by local teens, and he doesn’t expect the advent of recreational marijuana to make a difference either.

At the end of the day, Hansen expects that marijuana legalization will be more of realignment in the way society handles the substance — retail stores as opposed to black-market dealers, and a government infrastructure to handle taxation, regulation and enforcement — but he doesn’t expect the change to significantly alter demand.

Hansen said he’ll pursue a recreational marijuana license — “As the deadlines approach, we’ll meet them and we’ll be ready January 1,” he said — but his business expectations remain modest. 

“None of the dispensaries here are cutting a fat hog,” he said. “Everybody’s just hanging in, waiting to see what happens and hoping they end up with a viable business.”