Observations from Colorado on Retail Marijuana Establishments

20 Feb 2017 9:03 PM | Maine Association of Planners (Administrator)

The recreational marijuana use law adopted by the voters in November provides for the state licensing of five types of “establishments” dealing with the commercial production and distribution/sales of marijuana. It seems that most of the discussion and community concern involves two types of establishments – retail marijuana establishments where one can purchase various cannabis products to take home and marijuana social clubs where cannabis can be used/consumed on the premises. Everyone interested in this topic should read the law in its entirety to understand the statutory limits placed on these two types of establishments.

We recently went to Colorado on vacation. Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana in 2012 and implementation of the retail/commercial establishment rules went into effect in 2014. As most planners know, a site visit is very important in understanding the planning implications of a situation or development proposal. So while we were in Denver, we conducted a professional site visit to a retail cannabis store. The idea for this visit was triggered by receiving a “discount card” for purchases at the neighborhood cannabis store when we checked into our hotel in downtown. Our visit was strictly professional – we did not buy anything. What follows is a description of our visit to the retail store. This is just one store and it may or may not be typical of Colorado retail cannabis stores but the store we visited is part of a chain with stores across the state. 

Here are a few observations based on our limited experience: 

1. Retail cannabis stores openly advertise in all sorts of media including high-end tourist publications. Typically these are full color ads and many are very attractive full page ads. For example the ad for the local store in Aspen in a classy tourist magazine could be mistaken for a Gucci ad or an ad for an art gallery or jewelry store. 

2. When we arrived at the Curtis Hotel in downtown Denver we were given a discount card for cannabis purchases at the neighborhood retail establishment--Native Roots –as part of the checked-in. Native Roots is the largest chain of retail marijuana shops in Colorado with 17 locations throughout the state primarily in the major cities (Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs, and Glenwood Springs), tourist centers, and the Denver suburbs. The racks with tourist information in the hotel lobby had information about Native Roots and other retail stores and dispensaries in Denver. Like Maine, Colorado has both medical and recreational marijuana stores. 

3. We visited the Native Roots shop near the hotel. The store is located in a downtown office building on a lower level with an attractive entrance (see pictures). Its neighbors are a chain coffee shop, salon, and sandwich shop. To enter the store you go down the stairs to a waiting room. To get into the retail floor you have to provide a picture ID to the person at the entry booth. Once they confirm your age, you can enter the retail floor through a locked door. 

4. The retail floor is set up like a bank. When you come in there is a que where you wait until one of the clerks calls you up to the sales counter. You cannot wander around the store. The sales counter is set up much like a bank with a number of sales positions each with an identical display of products. All products are in the display cases or on shelves behind the counter. No products are displayed in the open or on shelves that customers have access to. At this store there were five sales positions. Each position has a display of the available products including various types of cannabis products including flowers, tinctures, gels, various edibles, etc. (see the pictures). 

5. When it is your turn, a sales clerk calls you to one of the sales positions. The first thing they do is ask again to see your ID. After they confirm your age, you can buy products. We talked with the clerk about the various products especially the various edibles. Many of the edibles do look like “candy” or other sweets. There are cookies and mini-brownies as well as chocolate bars, gummies, gum, etc. The potential for accidental use does probably exist. Many of the edibles appear to be sold/packaged in sizes that are for multiple uses. 

6. While we were talking with the sales clerk there was a customer at the next sales position and the clerk spent time explaining to him the pros and cons of the various products depending on the reaction you are seeking and suggesting how much to use of each product. 

7. The experience was much like going to the bank except with a much higher level of security (and no drive-through). The shop was very nice with attractive displays, indirect lighting, and lots of collateral logo merchandise such as shirts, hats, bags, etc. 

8. This is just one example of a retail marijuana sales establishment in Colorado. While walking around Denver, we saw another shop that we did not go into, but it was in a freestanding building (maybe a former convenience store) that was brightly painted. And the pictures of the Aspen store in the magazines looks like a high end jewelry store. 

9. We took the new light-rail from the Denver airport to downtown. The line goes by a large industrial/warehouse district on the fringe of downtown. There is a couple of marijuana grow and/or processing facilities that you can see from the train. They appear to be in older warehouse type buildings within this area much like the medical grow facilities in Maine. 

Based on this single experience, many of the “horror scenarios” being suggested about retail marijuana establishments in Maine appear to be unfounded. The store we visited did not have anyone hanging around outside – customers came and went. The store operation was very professional and as with the requirements of the Maine law, sales were limited to cannabis related products. The staff was well dressed, polite, and seemed to be very knowledgeable about their products. Security was tight. 

An interesting tidbit is that Colorado (like the new Maine law) allows municipalities to adopt more stringent regulations for retail establishments than the state requirements. The state allows retail cannabis stores to stay open until midnight but Denver apparently requires them to close at 7:00 PM. Apparently this has resulted in stores locating across the city-line in other communities that allow stores to stay open later. This might be an argument for thinking about cooperative local regulations among groups of communities within the same market area to avoid these sorts of issues.

--  Carol Eyerman, AICP, Assistant Planner, Town of Topsham  and Mark Eyerman, Principal, PlanME, LLC

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