Aspen pot industry drawing little Front Range interest
October 12, 2014
Nearly two weeks have passed since Aspen lifted its moratorium on recreational marijuana, and not one Front Range operator has applied to open in town.
In July, Aspen City Council members and Silverpeak Apothecary owner Jordan Lewis voiced concern that Oct. 1 would bring an influx of recreational marijuana applications from the Front Range. The council majority initially leaned toward extending the moratorium through 2015 to protect and foster local industry. The council reversed that direction in the spirit of free-market competition, however, with Mayor Steve Skadron saying the marijuana industry deserves no greater protection than hotels, restaurants or other retailers.
"I'm partly surprised that there wasn't a mad dash right after Oct. 1," Leaf Aspen dispensary co-owner Jesse Miller said Friday.
He opined that high real estate prices, low vacancy rates and hesitant landlords likely dampen Front Range interest. He said he has spent about 2 1/2 years relocating his operation from the Buckhorn Arms building underneath Johnny McGuire's to the North of Nell building near Gondola Plaza.
Ben Bayko, co-owner of Alternative Medical Solutions, which is currently expanding its medicinal and recreational operation on South Mill Street, said he also is not surprised at the lack of applications.
"Commercial real estate is at a premium right now in downtown, and without a downtown location, you're kind of left out of the game," he said.
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With Aspen Business Center dispensary Stash planning to relocate into town, Aspen could have five recreational shops soon. If approved, Stash will open in the space formerly occupied by Poppie's Bistro on West Hallam Street, where RX Green Patches is also expected to operate after winning approval to sell hash-oil patches.
Miller said Front Range interest has not been entirely absent. According to him, Greenwerkz — which has locations in Denver, Edgewater and Glenwood Springs — has been trying to open in Aspen for years. He said Greenwerkz hasn't been able to find an agreeable landlord.
Despite the lack of interest, Miller said Aspen is still intriguing for outsiders, given the high turnover of tourists during the peak season. 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.
"People realize that the mountain resorts, in certain seasons, have the same capabilities as somebody down on Colfax (Avenue) or Broadway (in Denver) in terms of foot traffic," Miller said. "And at the rate that we turn over beds every five days or a week, it's essentially new people. So every week, the traffic flows kind of high."
On Friday, Ron Radtke, owner of Aspen Green Dragon, recalled concerns voiced at City Hall in July. He said his opinion has remained the same.
"The ocean is big; the water is deep — you find a spot that works for you," said Radtke, who recently acquired a Hyman Avenue pedestrian-mall space for a recreational operation near his current location. "There's 85 bars in Aspen, OK? Listen, nobody wants competition. Everybody wants a monopoly. I get that."
Radtke, who also runs an operation in Glenwood Springs, added that he thinks demand is being met.
Miller said that even if another applicant emerges, they are looking at a 45- to 90-day wait, depending on legal and logistical hurdles. He said it's not likely that any new applicant could open by Christmas.
Councilman Dwayne Romero said in July that he would like the city to explore community need when considering recreational marijuana applications. This way, Aspen wouldn't end up with an excessive number of pot shops. The Local Licensing Authority, which reviews liquor and marijuana applications, should measure community need versus approval, Romero argued.
According to City Clerk Linda Manning, there are no plans currently to alter the authority's purview.