TELLURIDE – When Greg Viditz-Ward received an envelope from the Town of Telluride on Christmas Eve, he knew he was holding something special.
“I opened the envelope and there it was – a license to sell retail marijuana in Telluride,” he said. “It was history in the making.”
Viditz-Ward owns the Telluride Green Room, the medical marijuana dispensary that’s sold marijuana products to patients in Telluride since 2010. But beginning on New Year’s Day, Viditz-Ward’s license to sell retail marijuana takes effect, allowing him to sell marijuana and cannabis-infused products to anyone who is at least 21.
Pot shops and law-enforcement officials across Colorado are bracing for retail marijuana commerce that they hope will see a smooth transition from the strictly medical marijuana market to retail weed.
“We’re going to have plenty of products to sell,” said Viditz-Ward. “We’ll have blends of sativa, indica and hybrid strains, but also concentrates and soft and hard infused candies and other treats.”
In accordance with state law, however, Viditz-Ward’s retail marijuana and infused products will contain lower levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, than do his medical marijuana products.
“The law allows you to sell products that contain up to 500 milligrams of THC per package in medical marijuana products,” he said, “but in retail marijuana products, you are limited to 110 MG.” One-eighth of one ounce of most marijuana strains contains roughly that amount of THC, he explained.
As per state law, the Telluride Green Room sends samples of its products to a state-approved testing facility, which determines the potency of the products.
“They also do testing for any possible contaminants in the buds. If they find any contaminants, you can’t sell the product,” Viditz-Ward said.
He assures potential customers that his product is among the best. “Myself and a few of my employees use these products, so we’re looking to sell only what we would use personally. All of our products are clean and safe to use.”
Viditz-Ward is ready for large crowds on New Year’s Day, and said he’s received phone calls and messages from people interested in traveling to Telluride from around the country asking him about the upcoming legalization of retail pot commerce.
The demand for many of his products could outstrip his supply. As required by San Miguel County zoning laws, the Telluride Green Room grows its crops in the Ilium Industrial Park, outside of Telluride, but purchases its infused edible products from across the state. Many Green Room suppliers are still jumping through the bureaucratic hoops to sell on the retail market by Jan. 1.
“Right off the bat, I’m anticipating a shortage of edibles, because many of our suppliers haven’t yet gotten their paperwork filed. Some companies have gotten everything right, but the ones that sell us chewy and hard candies, chocolates and chocolate bars will be in short supply, until, I’m guessing mid-January,” he said.
“But we’re ready for customers on New Year’s Day! We’ve got plenty of products, so we’re encouraging anyone 21 and older and who can present valid government-issued identification to come down and see what we’ve got.”
The Telluride Green Room, Viditz-Ward said, will be examining the ID of every single patron who visits the shop.
“We’re going to have a lot of eyes on us, because retail marijuana sales are going to be so new, so we’re going to be crossing all our T’s and dotting all our I’s,” he said.
Retail marijuana customers can expect to pay more for their products than Viditz-Ward’s medical marijuana patients pay.
Colorado voters approved a roughly 25 percent tax on retail marijuana purchases in the November election. In addition to the roughly ten percent sales tax (a combination of state, county and town taxes), retail marijuana customers must pay an additional 15 percent excise tax, which will be used to fund public school systems. The sales taxes for Viditz-Ward’s medical products are, however, incorporated into the price.
“If the amount of marijuana my patients wish to buy costs, say, $30, the tax I believe is 8.4 percent, which is already added into the price.”
Viditz-Ward said that obtaining the shop’s retail license was a relief, and that it wasn’t easy.
“Filing the paperwork was definitely a challenge,” said Viditz-Ward. “The paperwork we filled out for our medical dispensary was similar to the paperwork required to open a casino in Colorado – my employees and I needed to turn over lots of information on our backgrounds and our financial and personal histories. It was a very thorough background check.
“The background checks for applying for a retail license were intense, too. It was a very drawn-out process; the background checks and paperwork were the same as the ones to open our medical dispensary in many areas, even though both of the businesses – retail and medical – are taxed and structured differently.”
Alpine Wellness, another licensed medical marijuana dispensary in Telluride, also obtained its retail marijuana license over the holidays, and is set to begin selling on New Year’s Day.
According to plan, the retail shop’s first customer will be San Miguel County Commissioner Art Goodtimes, a member of the Green party, a longtime supporter of relaxing marijuana laws in the State of Colorado.
“The legalization of marijuana is an issue the Green party supports,” said Goodtimes. “Treating cannabis like alcohol was a smart move on everybody’s part. Many of these laws prohibiting a plant that has grown from the ground and used by humans for thousands of years has no scientific basis.”
Goodtimes voiced the hope that the legalization of the recreational marijuana industry will bring economic development to the county as a whole, “both for cannabis sales and hemp production,” a change augurs, he suggested, “an agricultural opportunity that could be a huge boon to the traditional industry in Colorado.”
Alpine Wellness cofounder Nolan Murphy said the retail branch of the business entity is ready for the New Year’s Day rush.
“This is our fourth or fifth year of operating in Telluride,” Murphy said. “We’re dealing with multiple licenses from the state, county and town, and it can get a little confusing occasionally. uBt we’re well-versed in filing the necessary paperwork to stay in this business.”
Like the Telluride Green Room, Alpine Wellness will sell an assortment of marijuana, infused edible products, concentrates, marijuana-related products and smoking and vaporizers accessories.
“NYC Diesel, Durban Poison, OG Kush – we’ll have many different strains available for our retail store,” said Alpine Wellness Cofounder Mike Grady.
In recent weeks, Grady has received dozens of phone calls from people across the country who are interested in learning about recreational pot in Colorado, including journalists at CNN. Based on what he perceives will be high demand for the products, Alpine Wellness will be selling its marijuana at a slow pace, to address the issue of short supply.
“To pace our sales, we’re selling our marijuana in increment packages of one-sixteenth of one ounce, allowing people to purchase up to one-quarter of one ounce at a time, so we don’t run out of our product,” Grady explained.
Prices for marijuana at Alpine Wellness start at $25 per one-sixteenth of one ounce before tax, and total $31.25 after taxes.
Don’t Be ‘a Jerk’
Amendment 64, which allows for the retail sale and use of marijuana, received overwhelming support from San Miguel County voters in the 2012 general election: 79 percent – the largest percentage of support from any county in the state – supported amending the State Constitution to allow for the recreational use, possession and sale of the drug, which is still a Schedule I narcotic under federal law, as are cocaine and heroin.
But while county and residents statewide approved legalization of the drug (55 percent of the turnout voted for the amendment, while 45 voted no), the new policies and regulations surrounding cannabis possession and use may cause some headaches for law-enforcement agents in Telluride and San Miguel County.
A primary concern for County Sheriff Bill Masters is where citizens will choose to ingest the drug. Masters plans to use “street justice” to educate users that the law prohibits people from smoking in public.
“I think the best rule of thumb, when it comes to smoking and ingesting the drug, is to not be a jerk. Smoking marijuana in public is against the law,” said Masters. “As we know with people that consume large quantities of alcohol in the bars and taverns around town, many of them lose track of their thought processes and rationale, which I’m guessing will lead to a lot of people smoking marijuana out on, say, street corners in Telluride.”
Underage marijuana consumption is also a concern.
Along with Masters and his deputies, Telluride Chief Marshal Jim Kolar and his deputies will be enforcing the laws covering age limit for possession and consumption of the drug, which are similar to liquor laws and require the consumer of the drug to be 21 or older.
“So what will happen with people under the age of 21 who are in possession and/or are using the drug, they’ll be ticketed just like before,” Kolar said. “Possession of under an ounce of marijuana – similar to possession of alcohol by a minor – is considered to be a petty offense under law, and the offenders will be given a ticket to appear in court.”
People purchasing the drug for minors, or reselling marijuana product purchased at stores, is also a concern for both law enforcement officials.
“Purchasing marijuana for minors is against the law, plain and simple,” said Masters. “And violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
In addition to requiring that visitors to each store present government-issued IDs and some other form of identification, Grady said he and his staff are doing what they can to prevent “straw purchases” that may make their way into the hands of minors, by requiring each customer to sign a statement agreeing that they will not resell the product to anyone, including those under the age of 21.
“We want to do what we can to educate people, telling them that they cannot do these certain things, and that we’re not responsible for what they do with the product once it leaves our store,” said Grady.
Masters and Kolar will also be enforcing the law regarding driving under the influence of drugs laws. In May, the Colorado State General Assembly passed a law establishing a legal threshold on the amount of THC drivers can have in their bloodstream while operating a motor vehicle. The limit set by the legislature – 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood – is part of the law that currently awaiting Gov. Hickenlooper’s signature.
While the threshold outlines the model for law enforcement to use when enforcing DUID laws, Masters said that Colorado is operating in a gray area.
“I am not certain the standard is the correct one, but if it becomes law, I would guess the [district attorney] would prosecute it,” he said.
“Still, deputies from my office, and I think Marshal Kolar would agree, are going to have to show impairment before blood samples can be taken,” he continued.
“Or, in other words, have probable cause that a person was operating a motor vehicle, and that they were operating it in a manner that violated traffic law or in such a manner that indicated to a reasonable man that the driver may be impaired by some substance to justify stopping the vehicle and questioning the driver. And that the driver was under the influence of some drug other than alcohol that the officer can [ascertain] to a degree through roadside maneuvers and other observations of certainty [require] the driver to submit to a blood draw and test.”
As is now true with a vehicle stop for suspicion of DUI, drivers refusing to have blood drawn risk losing their license to drive for a year.
Regardless of the marijuana product – retail or medical – Masters said, it is illegal to drive under the influence of the drug, even as the state government develops a legal framework for enforcing the law.
“The legislature is still coming up with a proper model. There is no Breathalyzer equivalent, and there is no way to measure the level of marijuana intoxication in the field. It takes running an analysis of the person’s blood to determine how much THC is in it, and that level is up for debate,” he said.
“It’s much more important for an officer to record his observation in his reports,” Masters said, “to document that the driver appeared to be under the influence of marijuana at the time of contact.”