Selling medical marijuana in Aspen is like starting up any other business. It can mean hard work and little pay.
The resort's four fledgling marijuana dispensaries — the oldest has been in business all of four months — are plugging away in a competitive environment, where the customer base appears to be increasing steadily, but not necessarily explosively.
“We've been in operation for four months now. We have yet to turn a profit,” said Quinn Whitten, a partner in Aspen L.E.A.F. (Local's Emporium of Alternative Farms), the town's first dispensary. It opened Aug. 20.
There were 42 registered medical marijuana users in Pitkin County by the end of June, 61 by the end of July and 85 at the close of August — the most recent numbers available from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, which is apparently swamped with applications.
What had been a 30-day turn-around for patient registry cards has become a three-month wait, local dispensaries report.
Still, Aspen's dispensary operators expect that the total number of patients in Pitkin County far exceeds 85 as the year winds toward a close.
“I think we probably saw 85 patients within the first week,” Whitten said.
“I would expect to see a slight jump in September, and for October to have a substantial increase,” said Brett Nelson, a partner in Ute City Medicinals, which opened in mid-September.
Whether there is room for four dispensaries in Aspen in the long term remains to be seen. But so far, Nelson is pleased.
“I can't speak for the other guys. As far as I'm concerned, as an offseason startup, we're paying the bills,” he said.
Alternative Medical Solutions has seen a slow, gradual increase in business since it opened in early October, said co-owner Damien Horgan.
“We have kind of an established patient list, and we see those patients regularly,” he said.
“I haven't gone out and bought a new car or new house or anything like that,” he added, summing up business so far.
Rounding out the quartet of dispensaries that set up shop in Aspen as the medical marijuana industry in Colorado exploded this year was Silverpeak Apothecary, which has been closed in recent days to remodel its space.
L.E.A.F., which now operates a dispensary in Carbondale, as well, is working to establish itself as a wellness clinic that offers more than just the dispensing of marijuana. The venture's partners anticipated it would take time to become established as a successful enterprise, Whitten said; he's working 50 to 60 hours a week.
Daily sales have declined somewhat since the dispensary opened, he said, citing competition from the growing number of dispensaries in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Only time will tell how many of the businesses have staying power within a burgeoning industry that is facing close scrutiny and, potentially, stricter regulation, as state legislators scramble to get a handle on the unexpected boom.
“Those people who thought they'd jump on board, I think few of them will stand the test of time,” Whitten predicted.
December 28, 2009
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
No easy green in medicinal pot, say Aspen dispensaries