Interviews

What's Up With Pueblo's Cannabis Scene?

An outdoor marijuana cultivation in Pueblo County.
An outdoor marijuana cultivation in Pueblo County. Jacqueline Collins
An early adopter of both outdoor cannabis growing and retail sales, Pueblo County had the potential to become the Napa or Silicon Valley of pot, according to local enthusiasts. Almost ten years later, Pueblo County hasn't reached the business status (or rent prices) of those two California hot spots, but the area has a strong cannabis workforce.

According to the state Marijuana Enforcement Division, Pueblo County is home to over a hundred licensed recreational cultivations and nearly forty dispensaries. Steve Duran, who opened the first medical store in the city of Pueblo, doubled down in 2021 by adding another dispensary in the area. But instead of opening a second independent medical dispensary, he partnered with the Bay Area's Berner to bring Cookies to southern Colorado.

We recently caught up with Duran to learn more about his Cookies outpost and how Pueblo's cannabis space has been.

Westword: We chatted seven years ago, after you'd just opened Seven One Nine as a medical-only dispensary with your wife. How did that journey go?

Steve Duran:
Yes, I remember that interview! We are still on that journey. Our medical store, previously known as Seven One Nine, is now called Colorado Kush, and it’s still in the same location as it was seven years ago. We also launched a brand called Colorado Kush Co. on the retail side — very clean, high-grade flower that’s fully cultivated indoors. We are excited that it's now available to our community members. Currently, it’s sold exclusively at Cookies Pueblo and can be purchased as a pre-roll, too.

Why did you decide to open a Cookies store?

We chose to partner with Cookies because we felt it was an opportunity to work with a well-known brand while still remaining true to our personal and professional values. For this partnership, we identified a second storefront location that met the city’s requirements, and that’s where Cookies Pueblo sits, on West Northern Avenue. We opened our doors a little over a year ago, in April 2021, and have enjoyed the experience of working with the Cookies team because they share our commitment to quality above all else.

Are you a Cookies franchisee? How does that partnership work?

We are not. I’m the CEO of Cookies Pueblo and the license-holder of that specific store. Cookies headquarters is not a franchise, nor does it operate similar to a franchise model. Instead, cookies is a licensed retail network whose licensees are provided with the brand standards and products needed to execute Berner's visions for Cookies and Lemonnade. I’m feeling blessed to be a part of it.

click to enlarge Cookies Pueblo and Colorado Kush Co. owner Steve Duran - COURTESY OF STEVE DURAN
Cookies Pueblo and Colorado Kush Co. owner Steve Duran
Courtesy of Steve Duran
Pueblo was hailed as the "Silicon Valley of marijuana" in the early days. Now that we're over eight years into recreational cannabis sales, how do you think cannabis has affected the Pueblo area? Has it lived up to that Silicon Valley reputation?

I believe cannabis has positively impacted Pueblo, and I would say Pueblo has always been a vital hub on the I-25 and I-50 corridors. After the decline of the steel industry in the ’80s, Pueblo needed a new revenue source. Growing cannabis quickly became a primary industry in the community, serving as a means to reduce the economic hardship of those most impacted by the War on Drugs. That’s actually where a lot of my focus is: creating jobs for the community and helping those who have been disproportionately affected.

Watching the industry evolve, all while growing alongside it, has been a crazy ride, but I’m grateful to be in a place where I can share what I’ve learned to help others succeed. There’s still a lot of progress to be made, but I would say Pueblo has lived up to its reputation, because we grow some great cannabis.

How have Pueblo and southern Colorado's cannabis scenes taken to the Cookies brand? Does Cookies carry the same weight down there as it does in Denver?

Overall, southern Colorado has been quite receptive to the brand. In my opinion, Cookies carries weight in any market where it has a presence. I think this particular partnership works well because we share similar values and beliefs. As a social-equity licensee and legacy owner, working with Cookies allows us to better position ourselves to thrive in a very competitive market.

How important is having a known brand in the cannabis industry nowadays? Is that something customers are looking for when they come to Pueblo?

I think a lot of it comes down to trust, but I would say tourists are more likely to look for a well-known brand with the expectation that they’ll have a positive experience. No doubt there are smaller operations doing great things, like our own Colorado Kush Co. brand, but having that brand name definitely helps to attract more customers overall.

Does selling cannabis require the same strategy as it did in 2014 or 2015?

No, there has been a lot of movement, and with that, strategy has to be adjusted to stay competitive as consumer needs evolve and more brands come into the space. Using traditional marketing strategies, like text blasts, as your only means of advertising is no longer enough. I’ve learned that dispensaries need to utilize multiple tactics to bring in customers and build that brand awareness. In 2022, there are many ways to do this compared to what was available eight years ago. For example, we’ve found success in ramping up advertisements in cannabis and local media to increase foot traffic in our dispensaries.
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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.
Contact: Thomas Mitchell