The Colorado Department of Revenue is beefing up its marijuana enforcement group, girding for the state's recreational pot sales, which start Jan. 1.
The first office will be in Colorado Springs, which will have a staff of eight: a criminal investigation supervisor, two administrative staff members, two compliance investigators and three criminal investigators.
"It's really going to be more of a full-service office," said Ron Kammerzell, deputy senior director of enforcement for the Colorado Department of Revenue.
Other satellite offices will open in the state's north region along the Interstate 25 corridor between Longmont and Fort Collins and on the Western Slope, likely in Grand Junction, Kammerzell said.
The Denver office will remain the headquarters and have the largest staff.
The satellite offices are expected to be running by June 2014.
In all, marijuana enforcement will have 55 employees across the state. Today, the division has 27 staff members.
The Colorado Springs office, at 1030 S. Academy Blvd., will be the first to open.
That's because of the availability of office space, Kammerzell said. The office is the same one the division used for a previous office that was shut down in 2012 because of funding shortages.
"We've got these offices by region," he said. "Colorado Springs is our southern region."
That includes Pueblo, the Springs, southern Colorado and the southwest area north to the Castle Rock area.
Besides compliance, the focus for field investigators will be sales of recreational pot to underage buyers and the sale of medical marijuana to people who are not qualified to obtain it.
"It's similar to liquor enforcement," Kammerzell said. "Underage operatives will come in and try to buy recreational marijuana products. That's going to be a really big focus for our field enforcement efforts."
The legal age to buy recreational pot will be 21.
In Colorado Springs, which has banned recreational pot sales, enforcement will be aimed at medical marijuana.
But other nearby markets, Denver and Pueblo County for instance, will offer recreational sales.
Manitou Springs is taking a wait-and-see stance.
The ban in the Springs doesn't rule out the city's medical marijuana shops from opening recreational pot operations in areas where they will be allowed, said Julie Postlethwaite, spokeswoman for the Department of Revenue.
What's more, if Colorado Springs eventually opts in, it would mean that the city's medical pot shops would likely consider a dual license to sell medically and recreationally because of competition, said Luther Bonow, owner of Altitude Organic Medicine in Colorado Springs.
"If it were to open up down here, everybody who has medical marijuana would have to look at it," he said.
Bonow said he supports the city's ban on recreational sales because it's taken him about three years since he opened to break even, and he doesn't need the competition.
He figures that's about par for other medical marijuana shops in the city.
"It's taken a while for a lot of people to actually make any money or pay back their investors," he said. "Now you have recreational and it will cost you another million dollars to chase the retail. You're running after that new money."
Still, he said, he would be among owners who would take a look at offering pot recreationally if the Springs opens the door.