Sopris Sun Staff Writer
For a short time several years ago Carbondale had licensed 13 businesses to grow, prepare and sell legal medical marijuana in town, under a voter-approved medical-marijuana law passed as a state constitutional amendment in 2000.
Under the 2000 law, patients as young as 18 were eligible for doctor-approved prescriptions to buy marijuana for treatment of a number of ailments.
But the number of actual, open medical-marijuana businesses never was that high, said Town Clerk Cathy Derby, who explained that some hopeful applicants got their licenses to open shops but never did.
In 2012, the state’s voters added “recreational” marijuana to the mix, approving a second constitutional amendment that established rules for growing, manufacturing, selling and testing marijuana products intended for consumption by adults over the age of 21 years, with no medical application involved, and the Green Rush, as it had been known, was revived.
Today, after 15 years of rapidly changing state and local laws, there now is only one licensed medical marijuana business operating in Carbondale — Rocky Mountain High at 615 Buggy Circle, which also operates a retail shop.
There currently are five “retail” or recreational stores, the maximum number permitted under the town’s regulations — Dr.’s Garden at 580 Main St., ACME at 958 Highway 133, Sweet Leaf Pioneer at 1101 Village Road, Rocky Mountain High (same address as medical), and S.P. Carbondale Retail at 259 Main St., although the S.P. Shop is not yet open for business, according to the town’s records.
In addition, there are:
• Three cultivation facilities, known as “grows,” for the retail trade;
• One “grow” for medical marijuana sales;
• Two businesses manufacturing marijuana-infused products or MIPs for the retail market;
• One medical-oriented MIP business;
• And one testing facility.
That makes for a total of roughly 14 businesses that are licensed, though the fact that some are legally linked together with specific shops means that the number of independent businesses is somewhat lower.
Currently under review are applications for a third retail-product MIP, and a second medicinal-product MIP, both of which are scheduled for hearings before the town board of trustees on July 15.
And one business that started out selling medical product and later switched to retail sales, Doctor’s Garden, is soon to revive its medical-marijuana business, according to local resident James Leonard, owner of Doctor’s Garden.
Leonard, whose store was the first in the Roaring Fork Valley to sell cannabis products under the “retail” regulations, gave up on the medical-marijuana side last year, largely because of the difficulties encountered in keeping abreast of state regulations governing medical marijuana while at the same time running the retail side of the business.
But with a new, 43,000-square-foot cultivation facility in the Rifle area, part of which is dedicated to producing medical product, he said the temporary abandonment of medical marijuana is about over.
“We’re absolutely planning to make a triumphant return to the medical side,” he declared enthusiastically during a phone interview with The Sopris Sun this week.
Leonard also revealed that, although there were reports earlier this year that he was selling his business to an out-of-state buyer, those reports were inaccurate.
“We had a letter of intent from a group out of California,” Leonard said, but the deal never got off the ground, despite an offer of around $2 million.
“I was kind of curious to see where the market was at” when he was notified of the buyers’ interest, he said, but added, “We had no intention of hawking it, or selling it at all” beyond a brief exchange initiated by the potential buyers group.
In fact, he maintained, he had not even received a formal offer when the news stories broke, which he believes came about through a leak from the buyers “as a way to impress their investors.”
Instead, he said, “We’ve got really big plans,” pointing to the cultivation facility in Rifle and plans for starting an MIP in Carbondale.
“It’s pretty much a dream job,” he said of the business, “and in your home town … .”
Cash problem fixed
One problem faced by all of the industry’s practitioners — how to handle the flow of cash receipts in the face of the fact that pot remains illegal under federal law, which also controls the banking industry — has been solved for now, Leonard said.
His business is able to process transactions using debit cards, which he likened to a cash transaction without the actual cash, thanks to what he described as a liberalization of the attitudes of banks in working with cannabis-related businesses.
“At this point, everyone’s more cooperative with us than they were in the past,” he said of banks. “Where there’s a buck to be made, the banks will figure it out.”
And, he said, he expects that soon the U.S. Congress will approve the removal of marijuana from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Schedule I of illicit drugs, which puts pot on the same level as heroin and other hard drugs as far as federal laws are concerned.
There have been such bills introduced in congress in the past year, including one introduced by California Democratic Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, that would provide immunity from federal sanctions for all states that passed their own marijuana-legalization laws.
Another bill now before congress would exclude “industrial hemp,” marijuana’s non-intoxicating cousin, from the federal definition of marijuana, effectively opening up hemp production and manufacturing on a nationwide basis.
Published in The Sopris Sun on July 9, 2015.