Medical marijuana: Denver names first five licensed dispensaries

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Earlier this week at the pseudo-monthly medical marijuana workgroup meeting, officials named the first five fully licensed Denver medical marijuana centers. Verde Wellness Center, Medicine Man, Colorado Alternative Medicine and both iVita Wellness locations got the go-ahead from the city and state. And while some would say Colorado's regulation could lead to federal prosecution, iVita general manager Matt Bencivenga believes the opposite is true for him.

"I don't feel like we have more of a target," he says. "I feel like this is another layer of security. It shows that we are exemplary business as defined by the state. We are striving to be a role model and to be compliant and legal, and we have spent lots of money and lots of time to be one of those dispensaries. Not that it equals a sense of security, but it says the state has backed the industry. I would feel better than some of the [other states] that don't have this."

Colorado's Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division began issuing the first medical marijuana business licenses to dispensaries, grows and infused-product manufacturers around the state in October. So far, only 36 businesses have received licenses, with 29 going to actual centers -- some with grows attached to them and some with separate grow facilities. One marijuana-infused product manufacturer, Dr. Jay's in Denver, has also received the official state okay. The rest of the licenses went to grow facilities tied to other centers.

According to MMED spokeswoman Julie Postlethwait, the division is currently reviewing more than 1,500 applications, and the process is moving along as quickly as possible. The MMED has sent about 600 letters to local authorities for confirmation that the dispensary cited in each letter met city and county requirements and was still in good standing at the time of its application. After the MMED receives confirmation on each from local authorities, compliance officers will go out for a site visit. If everything checks out, the MMED will send a letter to the dispensary, letting owners know how much they owe the state for its license.

Postlethwait said one reason the licensing seems to be going slowly is that local municipalities have been waiting to send back the requested information for all of the dispensaries at once. "Once we start getting those in, you'll start seeing a lot of big moves," she says.

While she feels the MMED is making good progress, Postlethwait also notes that the division is still trying to fill vacant jobs; being short-staffed has prevented it from moving faster.

The other obstacle to licensing has been local bans on medical marijuana businesses. For example, Fort Collins voted to outlaw dispensaries last month; nearly two dozen centers there will soon be shut down. Because of bans, 321 applications are now going through a withdrawal process, Postlethwait explains. That process allows a business to avoid getting a rejection letter and to keep open the possibility of reapplying in the future if a ban is overturned or the business decides to move to another town.

But rejection is also a possibility. The state has already tossed 36 applications so far and Postlethwait says that 133 more are in the denial process right now.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Mason Tvert hopes AG John Suthers isn't hyping MMJ ban, his office says he's not."

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