High Country: The Marijuana Milestones of the Decade
Looking back on the moments that have shaped the local cannabis landscape
On Nov. 7, 2000, 54% of Colorado voters approved Amendment 20, making medical marijuana legal statewide. The progress made across the state during the 10 years that followed undoubtedly laid the groundwork for recreational legalization, but the 2010s will go down in history as the decade of cannabis.
Aspen has embraced counterculture long before legalization was a believable reality and when the floodgates finally opened for adult-use retailers in 2014, the downtown core soon became the state’s highest density of dispensaries per capita (there are now eight currently in business); in 2017, the city became the first in the country where cannabis outpaced alcohol sales (to the tune of $11.3 million).
So as we head into what’s already been coined “the Blazing ’20s,” High Country is looking back at the most major moments that’ve carved out our cannabis community:
• Aspen plays host to the first Cannabis Crown — Colorado’s version of the long-running Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam. The two-day event drew thousands of activists and enthusiasts to town, but burnt out after its second edition in 2011.
• Basalt’s first medical marijuana dispensary, the now-defunct Basalt Alternative Medicine, opens for business.
• Applications for Colorado’s medical marijuana registry quadruple compared to 2009, with the state’s health department receiving about 1,000 MMJ patient applications per workday.
• Alpine Bank’s lawsuit against Basalt-based Alpine Dank for trademark violation and other federal claims, alleging the marijuana dispensary created confusion in the marketplace, is quietly dismissed in the U.S. District Court of Denver.
• Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signs changes into law for the nation’s most exhaustive medical marijuana regulations, including a moratorium on new medical dispensaries through 2012 and a caregiver registry, along with more lenient residency requirements for dispensary employees.
• Acting on advice from its attorney, who said “adopting medical marijuana regulations would put county employees in the position of abetting the violation of federal drug laws,” Pitkin County commissioners unanimously voted to drop implementing its own medical marijuana regulations.
• Amendment 64, which was passed by voters on Nov. 6, makes Colorado the second state after Washington to allow the use of marijuana without a doctor’s recommendation.
• The Denver Post appoints Ricardo Baca as the first-ever marijuana editor at a major newspaper and launches a dedicated news and culture vertical, The Cannabist. Baca said farewell in 2016 and a year later, ongoing layoffs caused the site to cease publication in 2018.
• The Pitkin County commissioners establish recreational retail marijuana rules and regulations by officially passing an ordinance that makes the clerk and recorder the county’s licensing authority.
• The city of Aspen outlines recommendations for City Council concerning local retail marijuana businesses such as prohibiting consumption at private “pot clubs” and regulating marijuana much like alcohol.
• Despite Amendment 64 passing 72% to 28% by voters, Snowmass Village extends its moratorium on marijuana dispensaries until 2017.
• Katie Couric interviews Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper for a “What’s the Dope on Pot?” session during the Aspen Ideas Festival. He stated, “It’s going to be one of the great social experiments of the century.”
• The Basalt Town Council chills out on cannabis and unanimously approves an ordinance establishing rules for medical marijuana dispensaries and ending its moratorium.
• Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo leads the charge in creating the Valley Marijuana Council — a coalition aimed to educate the community about the new legal cannabis industry — and implements an “amnesty box” at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport for the safe disposal of leftover marijuana products.
• The Chabad Jewish Community Center launches “Art with Mary Jane” cannabis-infused painting classes, which city officials immediately nixed due to lack of approval and public consumption regulations.
• Silverpeak’s High Valley Farm causes a stink, ultimately enlisting the Pitkin County Environmental Health Department to control its third-party odor monitoring program to assuage the concerns of its neighbors. The two-year skunk-smelling saga cost its owners seven figures and ended two years later.
• Longtime local Michael Gurtman trades meatballs for marijuana and receives approval for Aspen’s eighth dispensary, Best Day Ever.
• City Council takes a long-overdue, first-ever field trip to a dispensary “so elected officials would have a better understanding of how the store’s operations and services work.” (Then-Mayor Steve Skadron forgot his ID and was turned away!)
• The Original Leaf dispensary in downtown Aspen gets sued for defaulting on more than $2 million in loans and closes for business.
• Aspen sells nearly $10 million in pot, almost $1.4 million more than 2015’s total of $8.35 million.
• Colorado cannabis safety regulators limit edible shapes and enlarge potency labels to avoid candy confusion among children.
• Snowmass Town Council extends its marijuana moratorium … again.
• The long-running Aspen Live conferences taps the Arcview Group, a leading members-only marijuana investor network, to present Aspen High — a prequel track of programming to examine the intersection of the cannabis and live music industries.
• Aspen School District lands a $250,000 state grant from marijuana taxes.
• The Aspen Times Weekly’s “High Country” becomes the first-ever dedicated cannabis column in the Roaring Fork Valley.
• National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws founder Keith Stroup presents Anita Thompson with a Special Appreciation Award from the NORML board of directors during the 13th annual Aspen Legal Seminar.
• Denver-based dispensary chain Euflora acquires Stash with The Green Joint opening soon-after in the same building.
• The new federal farm bill passes, shifting hemp from classification as a controlled substance to a crop regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, states and tribes.
• Cannabis makes culinary history at the Food & Wine Classic. For the first time in its 37 years, festival organizers welcomed two CBD companies into the Grand Tasting Pavilion as official exhibitors.
• After a five-year moratorium, Snowmass Village town officials unanimously approved its first-ever marijuana dispensary, which opened its doors on December 14. As the third location in the area, High Q is locally owned by Renée Grossman.
• Colorado’s cannabis businesses collectively sell more than $6 billion worth of weed (and related products) since the adult-use marijuana measure took effect on January 1, 2014.