December 20, 2013 Updated: December 20, 2013 at 8:11 am
DENVER - Plans to ring in the New Year passing around a bowl of the first marijuana sold legally at Colorado retail stores may prove difficult as a scant few are expected to open on Jan. 1.
So far, 423 eligible medical marijuana stores have submitted completed applications with the state for companion recreational retail marijuana licenses. Those that meet the requirements will get their licenses no later than the Jan. 1 deadline set in state statute, says Daria Serner, communications director for the Colorado Department of Revenue, the state agency tasked with overseeing the pot industry.
The holdup is at the municipal level.
And even then the experience varies greatly.
In Central City, the chief of police hand-delivered the first municipal license for recreational retail sales to The Annie's a Strainwise Dispensary. It boasts on Facebook about being the first municipally licensed pot shop in the U.S. along with providing helpful links to guide first-time pot buyers.
In Pueblo County, Michael Stetler said county commissioners were eager to approve his application to turn Marisol Therapeutics into a recreational pot store.
Stetler has big plans for opening week, anticipating a rush of patrons from nearby counties and cities that have banned recreational sales, including Colorado Springs and El Paso County.
"It's history in the making right here, so we've got to bring it in right," Stetler said.
He is expecting High Times magazine to cover the event and appearances from stars such as comedian and actor Tommy Chong from Cheech and Chong.
But in Denver - home to more potential stores than anywhere - things are moving more slowly and perhaps deliberately so.
"They know they are largely under the microscope," Ralph Morgan said after a public hearing at the Denver City County Building to vet his proposed store's location. "They want to ensure the success of this, so they are slowing it down, dotting their I's and crossing their T's, and I think that's the right thing to do."
But there's no question Morgan and business partner Tim Cullen have their eyes set on Jan. 1.
"It's only important in our own heads. It's just a goal we set," Morgan said.
It's an important day for others, too. The National Cannabis Industry Association is planning a news conference to mark the first legal sale in central Denver "in the post-prohibition world!"
The time is 7:30 a.m. New Year's Day. But the location is dependent on which of several store are licensed and ready to go that day.
Morgan and Cullen applied the second day possible for a state license, but are now unsure whether they will get their municipal approval in time for opening day.
"We're really at the mercy of the system. I wouldn't say it's malicious; although I'm sure there are people who think that maybe they (the city) are trying to throttle how many people come through so there isn't 100 stores open Jan. 1," he said.
The partners are trying to get recreational retail licenses for two locations in Denver, but even if they open the first day there's no big celebration planned.
It'll just be business as usual.
"There is a lot of hype around it, but the hype is coming from the media," Morgan said. "We're more conservative and this is a longer play. Everyone who has been through this for the last four years takes opening up January 1st with a grain of salt."
Part of the reason for the conservative approach has to do with the limited supply of marijuana.
"We're not inviting media. We're not blasting things out on social media," he said. "A lot of it has to do with our supply chain because we're mandated to grow 70 percent of what we sell ... if our business were to double we would run out. We would have to close midmonth and we're not unique in that. Everyone is in that same boat."
But the partners are acquiring property and prepping for an increase in demand.
The real time to celebrate they say, will be five months from opening day when their reaction from demand will be ready to bloom, get cultivated and hit the shelves.
"Come talk to us when we sell an extra 100 pounds," Cullen said.
Stetler in Pueblo isn't too worried about selling out.
"That's a good thing, right?" he said.
Megan Schrader: 719-286-0644