The city of Aspen is expecting two recreational marijuana license applications by September, and one shop owner believes additional interest from Front Range investors is imminent when the market opens to competition in October.
Aspen medical dispensaries Alternative Medical Solutions and Leaf Aspen are currently in the application process for converting to recreational, and a hearing is expected before the Local Licensing Authority on Sep. 2. Garrett Patrick, owner of Stash in the Aspen Business Center, also has said he has interest in opening a recreational shop in Aspen, but he would have to wait until October to apply. With approval, shop owners would have to wait a minimum of 45 days to convert.
Aspen currently has two recreational marijuana shops: Silverpeak Apothecary and Aspen Green Dragon.
Leaf Aspen owner Jesse Miller said he has spoken to shop owners in Denver who are waiting to grab a piece of the mountain-town pie in places such as Telluride, Steamboat Springs and Aspen. According to a study prepared for the Colorado Department of Revenue, about 90 percent of recreational sales in “heavily visited mountain communities” come from out-of-state visitors.
“(Front Range investors) see the market,” Miller said. “Aspen is tiny, and it has two lengthy offseasons, but when the season’s on, we probably have triple the consumer base than any one dispensary in Denver.”
Competition is stiff in the state capital, he said. Broadway, for example, has about eight pot shops all within walking distance of one another.
With the Aspen City Council’s decision Monday to let the marijuana industry’s transition period expire, anyone can apply to open a shop here in October. However, Councilman Dwayne Romero said the city should rethink the Local Licensing Authority’s jurisdiction, allowing it to weigh community need versus approval.
Like any other retail industry, Romero said shops will be looking to open here just to claim the Aspen brand.
“We could see 25 shops, and half of them don’t even care about (profit and loss),” he said. “Pick a product: fur, jewelry, high-end clothing.”
Ben Bayko — owner of Aspen Medical Solutions, who plans to open a separate space for his recreational operation — said he looks forward to free-market competition, though he added that he supported extension of the transition period, a move the council majority initially liked.
“I do think they should limit it somewhat, but the market will decide that,” Bayko said. “Twenty-five shops is obviously too many.”
He added that he agrees that exploring community need for an excessive amount of marijuana shops is important, “especially when these non-locally owned businesses would be here to simply have their name in Aspen.”
“Bottom line for AMS is we have been here from day one, and we are not going anywhere,” he said.
Miller said the open market will be no different from when medical marijuana was legalized.
“I think the market dictates that there’s room for about four to five (shops),” said Miller, who is expecting to move into a new location near Gondola Plaza this fall. “Then it’s just a matter of how long the weakest link out of those four or five will sit there and tread water. ... Competition is good for the consumer.”