FRASER - The owner of Serene Wellness had his first customer walk through the doors of Grand County's first and only medical marijuana shop before he had even hung the neon open sign in the window of a house-turned-pot shop on Byers Avenue.
"It was a historic moment," said shopkeeper Dan Volpe. "The first legal transaction in Grand County."
The house, which is in one of the few areas in Fraser where a medical marijuana business meets all zoning guidelines to operate, is believed to be at least 100 years-old. Volpe takes pride in converting older buildings into storefronts, he said.
When you walk through the building's front door you are greeted with a certain sweet smell as you find yourself in the shop's waiting area that is empty except for a sliding window, something Volpe plans to change by bringing in couches and chairs. The sliding window opens as the shop's employee greets you and checks to make sure you have the right credentials to purchase medical marijuana, a red card.
After your credentials are checked, the employee opens the door to the marijuana shop, which can only be opened from the inside, where the sweet smell becomes stronger and you get the first look at the shop.
Jars of cannibus buds with labels such as Chocolate, Afghan Kush, White Widow, Strawberry Cough, and Agent Orange sit atop two glass cases that display concentrated extracts, infused products, and tinctures, as well as all of the accessories one would need to consume any of the products sold by the shop.
With Cheech and Chong playing on the small DVD player in the shop, Volpe goes on to explain the difference between the products and the strains he offers. He grows all of the product himself, though not on the Fraser premises as that was a stipulation put in place by the town.
While he grows all of the actual marijuana that is sold from the shop, he also sells edibles, drinks, and candies with names like Keef Cola, Beyond Mars Brownie, and Ganjalas, most of which aren't made by him. He grows his product at a different location using the most organic practices he can, he said.
"We hand water and hand trim the products," he said. "We really are hands-on about our products and that reflects in the finished product."
Smile, you're on camera
Despite the fact Volpe has yet to hang a sign advertising the name of the wellness center, since his first customer on April 4 he has been moderately busy.
Volpe, who has already completed a large amount of updates to the building in order to bring it up to code and make it handicap accessible, plans to update the landscaping around the property and expand the pot shop's offerings to include massage therapy and acupuncture.
Though the business still lacks a sign, the property's required security systems are in place and are quite extensive to include numerous cameras in and around the building, bars on the windows, and a large safe that is bolted to the ground where Volpe's product is secured every night after the business closes.
"As soon as you step on to the property, you are on camera," he said. "We don't want to scare people off, but we do want them to remember they are on camera." Using the hi-tech camera system, Volpe can even watch what is happening at his shop through his iPhone when he is not there.
Volpe also owns a medical marijuana shop in Empire, which has seen almost no crime in the three years it has operated. "The only crime we have seen is petty shoplifters," he said. "And we prosecute all of them."
The broader perspective
By Colorado law, a medical marijuana shop must grow at least 70 percent of the product it sells. However, that could soon change once medical marijuana shops go recreational. A special House-Senate committee, whose task it is to organize how Amendment 64 will be implemented across the state, recently decided that future recreational pot businesses could specialize in growing, distributing, and retail operations.
The committee charged with creating laws for the implementation of Amendment 64 has decided on a number of issues surrounding the constitutional amendment, including requirements for selling marijuana, possible taxing of the sale of marijuana, and allowing medical marijuana shops an opportunity to transition to a full retail store under the new contitutional amendment.
The committee decided to give existing medical marijuana businesses a 90-day window to get first crack at opening full retail locations. This is a reduced timeline from a recommendation from a task force that suggested a one-year protection for existing medical marijuana businesses.
Volpe said he would attempt to make the transition to a full retail location, however he would need to acquire approval from the Town of Fraser before making the transition as local municipalities have the final say on whether to allow marijuana businesses.
Requirements that would need to be met in order to sell marijuana to a broader customer base would include stricter packaging requirements such as potency labels and purchasing limits, as well as safety standards surrounding how the drug would be produced and sold.
The committee also placed a sales tax cap of 15 percent on the drug, on which Colorado voters will decide in the 2013 November election.
The house recently passed House Bill 13-1114, which sets a five nanogram per milliliter of whole blood limit as driving under the influence of the drug. Drivers would still be able to argue in court whether they were under the influence of the drug while driving if they test at the five nanogram limit. The full legislature has yet to weigh in on the measure as the bill still needs to be approved by the Colorado Senate.
Many questions still remain to be answered before the legislature must enact all of the legislation surrounding the implementation of Amendment 64 on July 1, 2014.
At least four Colorado counties have already banned commercial sale, cultivation, and product manufacturing of recreational marijuana. Grand County officials have decided to wait on pending legislation at the state level before jumping on the "ban-wagon" for unincorporated Grand County. Local municipalities will also have to decide whether to allow recreational marijuana businesses within town limits.