Col. May Not Be Ready for New Year’s Crush

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Colorado’s much-anticipated retail pot shops are set to start doing business Jan. 1, but don’t expect a smooth opening day.

With massive crowds anticipated for the first day of legal, state-regulated recreational pot anywhere on Earth, only a handful of stores will be ready in time to serve customers New Year’s Day. And they may not be equipped to handle the crush of Coloradans looking for their first taste of legal weed.

“There’s a perception that come Jan. 1, Colorado’s going to be like Wal-Mart on Black Friday, people pouring through the doors,” said Mike Elliott, spokesman for the state’s Medical Marijuana Industry Group. “Not going to happen.”

jars of weedThe biggest problem right now is red tape. The state is in the process of clearing the final approvals for 160 medical marijuana dispensaries that have applied to become recreational stores. But the first shops won’t clear bureaucratic requirements until Dec. 27. That leaves less than a week to finish plans for New Year’s Day.

All the applicants are busy preparing for Jan. 1, but many are still waiting on site inspections, background checks and zoning decisions before the state issues a final ruling on whether they can sell weed to the public.

“There might be a lot of disappointed people on New Year’s Day,” Elliott said.

A few recreational shops should be open in Denver, but many other cities in the state won’t be ready to clear storefronts in time for the grand opening. That includes Aspen, Boulder and Aurora.

The options for buying are looking so spotty at this point that marijuana tour companies are canceling package trips because there may not be any place for tourists to reliably buy pot. Like other hopeful shoppers, they could get stuck in endless lines and may never get the weed they’re looking for.

In fact, some officials worry there’s some potential for trouble. Pot shops do business only in cash because the federal government bars banks and other financial institutions from working with marijuana entrepreneurs.

“If we have 10 stores open . . . we could have people camping out overnight with cash in their pocket,” said Denver councilman Charlie Brown. “How is the industry, how is the police department going to work together?”

Colorado voters approved legal weed in last year’s election, as did voters in Washington State. In Colorado, only medical marijuana dispensaries are allowed to apply for recreational licenses during the first few months of the program.

Though only a handful of stores will be open Jan. 1, many more should be doing business shortly after. Customers may not be able to buy as much as they’d like in the first few days, and some may not be able to buy anything at all, but the shortages and lines should ease quickly.

Kevin Fisher owns Rocky Mountain Remedies dispensary in Steamboat Springs. His shop won’t open until Jan. 8, but he said he thinks customers will be patient.

“I don’t think anyone is too upset about waiting to do everything right,” Fisher said. “So we open Jan. 8, 2014. That’s a lot sooner than Jan 8, 2035, when I thought this might happen.”

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