Aspen marijuana dispensaries seize holiday business

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times
Alternative Medical Solutions employee Valerie Arenivar gets into the holiday spirit at the recreational marijuana store, which offered a few Christmas specials for shoppers this week.
Rick Carroll/The Aspen Times |

The greeter at the new Green Dragon location on the Hyman Avenue pedestrian mall checks IDs and bounces his head to the music playing. Inside, the budtenders, as they’re called, field a wide range of questions. “How much does a vaporizer cost?” “Why’s the Super Joint more expensive than the other ones?”

It’s a bit more low-key a few blocks away at the new Leaf Aspen location, where an upbeat Cally Shadowshot beams about the store’s signature products and its homegrown marijuana supply of 40 pounds that’s being cultivated for the dispensary’s inventory.

The more button-downed and recently remodeled Silverpeak Apothecary gives a first impression as a merchant of fine jewelry as opposed to one of recreational marijuana, but there’s no question why the shoppers are there.

And the shoebox confines of Alternative Medical Solutions serves as a temporary spot before it soon expands into its loungelike space down the hallway, where it will serve both medical and recreational customers.

Welcome to downtown Aspen’s four recreational marijuana shops, which all opened earlier this year with the legalization of recreational pot sales in Colorado. All four have either expanded their operations or relocated to higher-profile spots. This is the first week of holiday sales for the four downtown shops, where tourists have been regularly filing in either as consumers or curious onlookers.

Between both recreational and medical marijuana sales, Colorado has reaped some $60.1 million in taxes, licenses and fees from Jan. 1 through October, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue. That’s in spite of some of the state’s municipalities banning dispensaries.

“I’ve lived in Colorado my whole life, and right now in Aspen, there’s such a special energy. You can’t find a place to park, but it’s great,” said Brian Radtke, chief operating officer of Green Dragon, which opened its retail shop last week in the Hyman Avenue mall while keeping its other store just a short walk away as a medical dispensary. “Summer was unbelievable, but this is great too.”

There weren’t many holiday blowout sales at the dispensaries. Most tourists who partake are just pleased to have legal access to marijuana products, store operators said. But Alternative Medical Solutions was selling “Christmas Gift Bags,” such as the “Sweet Grass Kitchen,” offered for $84. The bag included four edible marijuana products — one 70 mg chocolate chip cookie, one 30 mg brownie, four 10 mg cookies and one 10 mg pumpkin pie.

The holiday customers run the gamut, Shadowshot noted. Leaf is now located on East Durant Avenue, just mere footsteps away from the swanky Residences at The Little Nell and the Hyatt Grand Aspen. The moneyed gentry are customers there, as are the working-class locals, she said. After he turned away two minors from entering the store, one of Shadowshot’s colleagues, Jesse Miller, said this is a time of year when the shop makes an effort to educate the tourists about the do’s and dont’s on pot consumption (see related story on page A3). A bulk of its customers are in the 40- to 60-year-old age group.

“A number of people inquire if they can take it home,” Miller said. “Federally, it’s illegal, we tell them. But what you do when you walk out the door is not our business. But we tell them not smoke on the Cooper mall or the Hyman mall.”

Miller then pointed to the stack of pamphlets on the counter. Distributed by the Valley Marijuana Council, the educational pamphlet covers everything from how to secure cannabis and where to use it to how much to consume. It also offers some tips to visitors, warning them not to travel out of state with marijuana and reminding them about the amnesty box, located at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, where travelers can dispose their products before boarding the plane.

But not all customers get it. Celebrity Paris Hilton made a purchase at Green Dragon earlier this week only to light up outside of the store in the mall, those knowledgeable of the episode said. Dispensary workers quickly informed her that type behavior isn’t kosher, even in laid-back Aspen.

Bill Linn, assistant police chief with the Aspen Police Department, said seeking out rogue pot smokers “is a really low-level issue, but we do run into people who don’t understand the rules.”

Just the other day, he said, he spotted a couple getting high in an alleyway next to the condo they were inhabiting. Linn warned the couple that pot smoking is illegal in public spaces such as an alley.

By next year, another downtown retail shop will open, Native Roots Aspen, which will occupy the former space of La Palapa on Hunter Street. That will increase downtown Aspen’s recreational marijuana stores to five, not including Stash, which is located at the Aspen Business Center.

Native Roots has shops throughout the state. Company CEO Josh Ginsberg said the Aspen store should create 25 local jobs.

Ron Radtke, the father of Brian and owner of the Green Dragon and its other location in Glenwood Springs, said his company started with 12 people at the beginning of 2014. Now he has 49 on his payroll.

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