Colorado on Monday became the first U.S. state to issue special licenses for recreational marijuana businesses.
After weeks of scrutiny of applications, officials at the state’s Marijuana Enforcement Division slipped 348 approved licenses into the mail and sent them out to hundreds of stores, products-makers and cultivation facilities. Those businesses could begin producing and selling marijuana to anyone over 21 on Jan. 1, assuming the businesses also have the approval of their local governments.
Marijuana advocates hailed the finalized licenses as a watershed moment for Colorado’s legalization of cannabis, which voters approved in November 2012.
“Colorado will be the first state to have a legal marijuana market for adults,” said Mason Tvert, a Denver-based spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project and one of the leaders of Colorado’s legalization push. “We expect it to set an example for other states.”
Opponents of legalization, though, said the licenses are another step in what they fear is an increasingly disastrous pot policy.
“We’re seeing … a massive marijuana industry growing before our eyes,” said Kevin Sabet, who is with a national anti-marijuana group called Project SAM. “I hope it’s not going to be too late before we realize that the road we’re on is going to produce a massive public health problem and public safety problem in Colorado.”
State marijuana regulators have previously said they would make a decision on the hundreds of recreational cannabis business applications submitted in the month of October by the end of the year. And it appears they denied very few — if any — applications in doing so.
At the end of October, the state had received 136 applications for recreational marijuana shops, 28 applications for marijuana-infused products companies and 174 applications for marijuana-growing facilities. More applications trickled in after the October deadline, and state officials said some of those might also be acted upon by Jan. 1.
The approved licenses sent out Monday are for 136 stores, 31 products companies,178 growing facilities and three marijuana-testing labs. Julie Postlethwait, a spokeswoman for the Marijuana Enforcement Division, said she couldn’t confirm whether any applications have been denied.
Other state officials praised the division for meeting tight deadlines in issuing the licenses. Amendment 64, the measure that legalized marijuana use and limited possession in Colorado for people over 21, gives the state only 90 days to make a decision on an application.
“It has taken an enormous team effort to be able to issue state licenses in the timelines identified in Amendment 64,” Barbara Brohl, the head of Colorado’s Department of Revenue, said in a statement.
Because would-be pot shops face significant challenges in obtaining local licenses, the state’s approval on Monday does not mean that 136 recreational marijuana stores will be open on Jan. 1. For instance, in Denver — where the state has signed off on applications for 102 recreational marijuana stores — only eight stores have so far cleared all the hurdles in the local licensing process.
And not every business that receives the necessary state and local OKs before the end of the year will be selling recreational marijuana on Jan. 1.
Norton Arbelaez, co-owner of RiverRock Wellness dispensaries in Denver, said he does not plan to add recreational sales until probably mid- February because of all the uncertainty in the new market.
“There are just so many questions in terms of pricing, is there going to be scarcity, or some kind of lack of product in January that is going to lead to the price of the product doubling or tripling?” he said. “There’s a lot of unknowns.”
John Ingold: 303-954-1068, [email protected] or twitter.com/john_ingold
Staff writer Eric Gorski contributed to this report.