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Making sense of reefer madness in Colorado

April 16, 2014
by Marvin Ventrell, JD
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Second of two parts
Marvin Ventrell, JD

(Read part one)

The lines no longer extend outside marijuana shop doors in Colorado as they did in the first few days of January, and the numerous marijuana medical and retail shops throughout the Denver metro area now sit relatively modest and inconspicuous. Except, that is, for their typical green signage and amusing names such as The Grove, Premium Weed, Kindman Dispensary, Denver Relief, Natural Remedies, Kind Love, The Releaf Center, The Kind Room, Pink House Mile High, Herb’s Nest, Sacred Seed, Good Chemistry, Colorado Denver Kush Club, and, my personal favorite name, Starbuds.

I walked into iVita Wellness in North Denver at 9:45 a.m. on a Tuesday. iVita has two Denver locations and sells both medical and recreational products. The entry area is a small waiting room with a Plexiglas partition and a reception person on the other side. The manager, Catie, agreed to meet with me and answer my questions. We talked for 30 minutes in the waiting area before she invited me back into the product room.

Catie was pleasant, knowledgeable and informative. She identified herself as a recent communications graduate of the University of Northern Colorado and a regular marijuana smoker. I asked if she had been a regular user in college and she laughed and said, “I don’t think I knew anybody who wasn’t.” She explained that she did not smoke until evenings now and that it was the policy of iVita that employees not work while stoned.

iVita has about 40 employees including growers and warehouse workers, and the North Denver store has around 250 patients. It is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the law prohibits sales after 7 p.m. It is a dual license shop, and Catie explained that the newer recreational clientele was still developing, although she saw a distinction in the two populations. She described the recreational population as primarily low-income and minority. It is notable that the shop is located in a low-income minority neighborhood.

iVita charges approximately $150 per ounce of smokable marijuana for medical patients and $350 per ounce for recreational customers. Catie identified tourists, skiers in particular, as a significant component of the recreational trade. She said it has been common for folks to fly into the Denver airport, rent a car, buy weed on their first stop, and head to the mountains for their ski vacation.

After checking my Colorado ID, Catie took me through the locked metal door and into the product room. It was pungent! I viewed the products ranging from buds to chewables (Tootsie Roll-like) to joints (rolled to perfection with a smoking tip), to vapor co2 devices. The medical and recreational products were separated in the glass case and Catie explained that certain products such as chewables were not available to recreational customers because they do not meet the law's child safety container requirements. I could see the recreational products were primarily kept in child-proof pill bottles.

iVita’s products are tested by an outside lab and typically contain 20% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which provides the “high” for the user. Catie explained that some of the medical products were much lower in THC and much higher in cannabidiol (CBD), which is recognized as having potential medical benefits. (There are 483 known compounds in the plant, including about 84 cannabinoids other than THC. I hinted that I was not totally unfamiliar with marijuana.

Catie invited me to smell the difference in the high-potency buds and more standard THC buds. I could tell that this was not the marijuana of my college years. The lower-potency buds had the traditional odor of marijuana, a little skunky, but the high-potency buds were extremely pungent and sweet smelling. I had experienced enough and decided to do the next interview by phone.

Erica Freeman and her husband own and operate Choice Organics in Fort Collins, Colo., about one hour north of Denver. I spoke with Erica for 40 minutes about her business and her views on marijuana and legalization. She was pleasant, professional and forthcoming. She seemed in every way to be a typical hardworking small business owner who cared about her business and her customers. She also is a daily cannabis user, with Hash Oil being her product of choice.

Freeman and her husband began the process of opening a medical dispensary in 2007, and in September 2011 Choice Organics received the first permanent dispensary license in the state (and, she believes, in the U.S.). It opened for business in January 2012, and Freeman says not a single customer came to the store that day. Today it has about 175 regular medical marijuana, red card-carrying patients. The license caps its patient load at 300.

On March 17, 2014, Choice Organics received the first recreational sale license in Larimer County. Now a dual-use medical and recreational shop, it will maintain a focus on medical patients, which Freeman describes as her passion. She and her husband intend to keep the recreational buyer and medical patient sections separate. She describes her medical clientele as professional: mostly doctors, lawyers and nurses. She does not know yet what the recreational client base will be.

Freeman is proud of her “award-winning” grower, who, although they believe in the medicinal value of the whole cannabis plant, can generate varying levels of the 40 or so cannabinoids in a plant, including THC and CBD. While most clients stick with the smokables, she describes a rise in the use of edibles, with a growing interest in Hash Caps that resemble a pill. She describes Ingestible Hash Oil as the gold standard of medical cannabis, selling for $34 per gram.

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