In Longmont, Battle To Be Among City’s First Dispensaries Nears End
Thirteen applicants are are seeking to be one of Longmont’s first recreational marijuana dispensaries. All have cleared the hurdle of getting a license from the state’s Marijuana Enforcement Division, but that’s no guarantee they’ll soon be in business.
Longmont’s officials say they will approve just four of the applicants.
The final decision falls to a selection committee consisting of the city’s police chief, its community services director and a municipal court judge. The committee will also be advised by city staff, according to Shawn Lewis, assistant city manager.
“[We are] providing information about neighborhood impact, how good the business plan looks, how good the security plan is,” Lewis said. “We’re looking at all those criteria as a staff and providing recommendations.”
Last October, the Longmont City Council voted 4-3 to lift its ban on retail sales of marijuana, amid strong opposition.
Back then, City Councilman Gabe Santos voted against lifting the ban.
“State law does not supersede federal law when federal law is already in existence,” he said in October, a reference that marijuana is an illegal drug under federal law . “You want this changed? Change it at a federal level.”
Santos has since vacated his seat on the council.
Patricio Illanes, a Longmont resident who works with at-risk youth, also spoke against lifting the ban.
“If we open up four dispensaries in our city, that is the number one reason why many homeless people will come,” he said.
The vote, no matter how close, inspired 13 companies —from large to small — to apply. The reasoning behind only awarding four licenses, Lewis said, was to acknowledge concerns from community members who fear dispensaries could harm the reputation and economy of the city of about 96,000 people.
“We’ve really reached a point where we’re on the radar for a lot of national type companies, businesses and we’ve had a lot of job growth,” he said. “I think there was a fear among some community members that if we had, say, 10 stores come into town that the impact on the community would be greater.”
A growing industry
One of the smaller businesses vying for a license is Yuma Way, which currently has one store in Denver, company manager Rita Tsalyuk said.
“Denver is oversaturated with dispensaries compared to Longmont,” she said. “I think there is a need and desire to have some [in Longmont]. I think we’ll do just well here — we’ll do really well.”
Tsalyuk and her business partner, Kirill Merkulov, have invested in a conditional lease in a small shopping mall in the southwest part of the city. The 4,500 square foot location is next to a family-owned bakery. A GameStop and Smashburger sit across the street.
The pair hope that a built-in community education center they outlined in their application will give them an edge over the competition.
“Hopefully when people come in here, they will see us not only promoting the marijuana industry, but also the city, the culture, the background, the history and everything that comes with it,” Merkulov said.
Other than a three-week public comment period held in February, companies and community members have been left out of the final selection process.
In February, The Green Solution, a dispensary chain with 14 locations throughout the state, hosted a preliminary job fair at its proposed location south of downtown, between a NAPA Auto Parts and Hayes Automotive, to generate buzz.
Todd Mitchem, who runs government relations for The Green Solution, said he hoped the job fair would show city officials the company was interested in hiring locally.
“We want to be active in the community,” Mitchem said. “Not just run in and open up the store and forget about the community except for their purchases.”
Terrapin Care Station, a Boulder-based marijuana business, said in its application that it would give $100,000 to Longmont arts, LGBT and homelessness advocacy organizations in its first year of operations if selected for a license.
Other competitors hoping to sway the city have touted plans for consumer education classes and events, as well as their commitment to various philanthropic endeavors.
List of competitors in alphabetical order, linked to their applications:
- Anaport Enterprises
- Ancient Alternatives
- Boulder Alternative Care
- Brothers For Life
- Herbal Wellness
- Lightshade Labs
- Medicine Man Longmont
- Options Medical Center
- Terrapin Care Station
- The Green Solution
- Yuma Way
The city will announce the four license recipients sometime this spring or summer.
As of Jan. 30, at least 70 Colorado cities allow the sales of recreational marijuana.
Applicants acknowledge past infringements
A review of the 13 applications by KUNC found that nine of the companies competing for one of four new marijuana licenses in Longmont have past violations of various Colorado marijuana codes or local rules for sales.
Herbal Wellness, a Lafayette-based company founded in 2011, listed two such violations.
The company was fined $7,500 by the Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division in April 2016, after an employee failed to ID a customer that was purchasing marijuana at its Lafayette dispensary. The second violation took place in April 2017, when the company was found to have overstocked its inventory at a medical cultivation facility.
No fines were issued for the April 2017 violation.
The company said it took the violations seriously and remains in good standing with the MED and the City of Lafayette.
Lightshade Labs, in its Longmont application, said it had committed a “handful” of violations since beginning operations.
In 2012, at its City of Boulder dispensary, the company allowed employees to purchase marijuana immediately following their closing shift, resulting in fines for an after hours sales violation.
Including the 2012 incident, the company listed a total of 11 infractions between 2012-2017 for improper waste disposal, failure to disclose financiers and a breaking an advertising rule . Fines were issued for 5 of the infractions, but the amounts were not disclosed.
“In a new and ever-changing industry, some ambiguity on regulations or inadvertent violations can be unavoidable,” the company said in its application. “In all cases, Lightshade immediately implemented an appropriate policy.”
Medicine Man Denver, a Denver-based business founded in 2009, listed one incident where it was fined $12,313 by the city for allowing an undercover Denver Public Safety Cadet, who was underage, to enter one of its dispensaries and make a purchase.
The company also detailed an incident in 2016 where it came under investigation by the Colorado Department of Agriculture for the presence of the unauthorized pesticide myclobutanil on some of its plants. After further testing, the company said, the plants in question were deemed acceptable for consumption and no penalties were issued.
Options Medical Center WR, in Denver was slapped with a violation by the city when a company employee accidentally painted over a surveillance camera during a renovation project at a growing facility. The resulting obstruction of the facility’s surveillance system warranted a fine from the city.
“We were simply trying to make this grow better and had no intention to violate any rules or regulations,” Options’ said in its application. “Additionally, the employee responsible for the negligible supervision has since been termination from the company.”
Applicant RFSCPX, also listed in its application one fine from the MED lack of surveillance violation in one building at its Leadville growing facility.
Brothers For Life posted several past violations in its application.
The list included fines for City and County of Denver fire code and advertising violations. It also included multiple warning letters it had received from the MED regarding erroneous data entry into the state’s seed-to-sale tracking software, missing license renewal paperwork and issues with its surveillance system.
“[Our owner] is one of the largest license holders in the state of Colorado and has been an owner since 2010,” the company said. “Given the number of licenses he holds, and the amount of time he has been operating, we believe his administrative record reflects a dedication to regulatory compliance on par with the most diligent amongst his peers.”
In 2015, Terrapin Care Station was fined $7,000 by the City of Boulder for not properly storing product in a safe and that product sales occurred outside of a restricted area. In its application to Longmont, the company said it would have appealed the fine if Boulder had allowed such appeals, which it didn’t at the time.
An employee of Boulder Alternative Care, received a personal citation by the MED in August 2017 for wearing an expired state issued badge required for employment at its cultivation facility. The company said in its application it took necessary steps to prevent similar violations.
In April 2016, two employees of The Green Solution’s Silver Plume dispensary failed to stop an underage customer from making a purchase. The incident was a part of a MED sting operation and the company was subsequently fined.
“In the rare event presenting liabilities to compliance, we promptly assess the issue and ensure the entire organization learns and grows,” the company said in its application.
Yuma Way, Anaport Enterprises, Ancient Alternatives and Euflora all said in their applications they had no recorded violations with city regulations or the MED.
This past winter, Longmont posted all 13 applications on its website during a public comment period. Comments on past violations and other application criteria submitted during that period will be considered by officials during the final stages of the selection process, according to the city.
The 13 applications are no longer available for viewing on the city of Longmont’s website.