The Colorado Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division finally began licensing medical marijuana centers around the state this week. And while some activists say the licensing will likely bring more federal attention to Colorado dispensaries, several center owners say they feel more protected now, not less.
According to Julie Postlethwait, MMED spokeswoman, the department has approved five centers for Medical Marijuana business licenses across the state: Choice Organics and Colorado Kind Care in Larimer County, Briargate Wellness in Colorado Springs, and the Genetic Locker and Boulder MM Dispensary, both in Boulder.
Joe DiFabio, owner of Briargate Wellness, says the year-long licensing process was trying at times, but he's happy to have jumped the final hurdle: "They are still learning their system and putting things in place. The way I see it, the application fee paid for more than year's worth of business so far." Though he hasn't received the actual license yet, the state has accepted his check and told him he should be seeing it in the mail soon.
DiFabio adds that the license gives him a bit more peace of mind in light of the recent grandstanding by federal prosecutors over medical marijuana in California. "We are so much different from Cali it is unbelievable. They aren't state licensed, they are all supposed to be nonprofit, and it goes on. Compliance has been our goal since we opened. I started this to create jobs and make a living. The last thing I want to do is end up in jail."
Proponents of the regulations have said that one reason the MMED regulatory system has kept the feds out is because it prevents large-scale, untracked grows from being shipped out of state. This is a big problem in California, where such operations have produced tons of untracked surplus ganja that is shipped to the East Coast for nearly double what it would sell for back home.
Critics of the system, for their part, say the entire MMED has been set up to provide a huge case against the industry to federal prosecutors.
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Up north at Choice Organics outside of Fort Collins, owner Erica Freeman puts things more bluntly: "I do believe that it's what is keeping the feds from Colorado is the excessive regulation, and I don't mean that in a bad way. This is what we want and this is what [the feds] want."
Freeman says she feels more at ease now knowing her shop has been vetted by the state. Like DiFabio, she hasn't received her actual license in the mail yet -- but she notes that the MMED has cashed her check. She expects to have the license in hand and hanging on her wall in the next few days.
Even if the feds were to come into Colorado, she says, the regulations have created much larger targets operating outside of existing state laws. "I feel great that the MMED has been here and deemed it eligible. Their final approval is that safety net."
More from our marijuana archives: "Medical Marijuana Industry Group decries feds' Cali crackdown, touts Colorado regs"; "Medical marijuana: Full Spectrum Labs shutting doors until state license is issued"