Marijuana: Could medical marijuana grow become major recreational supplier?

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A Durango-area medical marijuana grow operation is finally legal, two years after getting a temporary okay from the county to cultivate cannabis. The La Plata County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a permanent land-use permit last week for Hesperus Mountain Healers (HMH). The operation was originally granted a temporary land-use permit in June 2011; it expired last summer.

The license could position the grow as a supplier for much of Western Colorado. But is that the plan?

Since regulations were loose at first, the county only approved a temporary permit.

"Once the state came out with permanent regulations last summer we put that process in motion," says Naomi Riess, land-use consultant for HMH.

Riess adds that this permit does not change the way the HMH is currently operating. Instead, it merely keeps the existing operation legal. The four-person operation is not open to the public. Instead, it sells strictly to a dispensary in Aspen, which is five hours away.

HMH does not supply any local-area dispensaries, which implies that the business might become a supplier for the southwestern part of the state once recreational sales are allowed at the state level. After all, driving five hours each way to one medical marijuana center in Aspen isn't the most economical way to run a dispensary.

HMH representatives tell us that they haven't considered that option yet. But if they were, this would be perfect timing.

Under Amendment 64 legislation, existing medical facilities will have a nine-month head start at selling recreational marijuana. The Department of Revenue will begin accepting applications for these businesses October 1, with approval to take place no sooner than the first of the year.

New marijuana businesses can begin submitting applications January 1 and may be open for business as early as October 1, 2014.

In the meantime, ganjapreneurs are likely readying themselves for what they hope will be major expansion. With that in mind, HMH may become a growing operation in more ways than one.

More from our Media archive: "Marijuana: Rolling Stone calls Denver ground zero of 'The New Stoned Age.'"

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