This week, the 25 medical marijuana dispensaries targeted in a second round of shut-down letters from the U.S. Attorney's office closed their doors, bringing the total number of shops that have done so to 47. But according to marijuana attorney Warren Edson, the majority of those MMCs have simply relocated -- a fact missed by most media outlets that have covered the story.
According to Edson, only a dozen or so of the shops have actually shut down for good.
"Finding out the exact numbers is hard because everyone is being secret about it," Edson concedes. "But in the first 23 [letters] I could find five, plus or minus two, that closed altogether. [One of the original 23 letters was subsequently withdrawn.] The second round of letters? About six, again plus or minus two.
"I think the average Joe reads that like the feds are shutting them down, or, that is the knee-jerk reaction from the headlines," he adds. "Not to diminish the loss from the folks who have shut down, but in terms of the overall scene, that isn't really the case."
Getting a list of all the dispensaries that have been sent letters isn't as easy as it would seem. For starters, officials at the U.S. Attorney's office in Denver will not give out the names of the shops because they are considered "work product" in an ongoing operation. And the state Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division has been kept in the dark on the matter; a representative claims the agency was never given a complete list.
The MMED only finds out about the notices if a shop owner volunteers the information -- usually when applying for either an outright withdrawal of the application or what officials call a "voluntary withdrawal" that would allow them to reopen at some point in the future. Even then, the owners might not disclose their reasoning.
MMED spokeswoman Julie Postlethwait says most owners come clean -- but their information can't be shared, she maintains. Here's her explanation, sent to us via e-mail.
Page down to continue reading about closed and relocated MMCs. "Records addressing the surrender of Medical Marijuana and Medical Marijuana products by businesses under our jurisdiction is privileged and confidential commercial information specific to the business owners affected and therefore are not public information," she writes. "Additionally, it is important to note that these actions were not precipitated by any official action taken by the Division and that any information provided on this subject matter would not be specific to businesses that received letters from the U.S. Attorney's Office."
Postlethwait was able to tell us that between December 1, 2011 and April 30, 2012, the MMED registered 103 license denials and 273 withdrawals. But this data provides no insight into the number of dispensaries that withdrew after pressure from the U.S. Attorney's Office.
"The MMED cannot tell you which shops have received letters because this is not a record within our custody -- we don't have such a list because the letters are not an official action taken by the MMED," Postlethwait allows. "Basically, we are not able to provide you with a list that we don't have or limit aggregate information that may or may not include businesses that have received letters from the U.S. Attorney's Office."
Currently, then, the only way to know if a shop received a letter is if the owners or employees make that information public themselves. Westword has learned about a handful of shops that have relocated or plan to relocate due to the letters. They include The Greenest Green in Denver, Silver Lizard on Welton, The Clinic on Holly, Grassroots Grown also on Holly, and Medicinal Gardens of Colorado in Fort Collins, which has moved to Denver and been renamed High Street Growers.
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But while moving locations has been an option for shops caught in the first and second round of letters so far, Edson points out that available real estate that isn't within 1,000 feet of schools is quickly being gobbled up and there will be little left for any dispensaries that receive letters in the impending third round promised by the U.S Attorney's office earlier this week. Add to that the owners looking to open after the statewide July 1 moratorium on new shops and the options will be even more limited, Edson says.
Back in March, Edson pointed toward what he dubbed a "doomsday map" showing existing dispensaries, schools and the few spaces in between where shops might be able to move. Now, he says, those open spaces aren't nearly as open as they were.
"It is very hard to find a place that hasn't been refilled in some capacity," he said. "As far as I know, every place [not within 1,000 feet of a school or another dispensary] has been filled by an existing dispensary or was bought by competitors who don't want another shop going in nearby.