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Medical marijuana facility finds a new home

Sam Green/Cortez Journal Liana Smith and her son, Garrett, had to relocate The Herbal Alternative after the City of Cortez passed a new ordinance.

By Rachel Segura
Journal Staff Writer

Garrett Smith is a business man. The type of business he runs caters to those who are ill and in pain. However, he is not a chiropractor or nurse. He is not anything that requires years of schooling. He is an alternative medicinal provider.

The new location for the Herbal Alternative is seen on the top of the hill at 1531 Lebanon Road. The green roof is prominent from Highway 491 but, from the look of it, most would drive by and consider it another warehouse.

And it is. Only this warehouse serves a different purpose.

Smith and his business partner, and mother, Liana Smith, took the high road and found a spot to sell and cultivate medicinal marijuana that is well within zoning laws.

Earlier this year, The Herbal Alternative, then located at 33 E. Main Street, found itself at a crossroads. According to the zoning and ordinance laws for Cortez, they were in violation of two out of three criteria needed in order to operate a medical marijuana facility.

The city ordinance cites that a facility has to be 1,500 feet from other medical marijuana facilities or rehabilitation centers, child care centers and schools. At that time, the facility was within 1,500 feet of Medicine Man and Cortez Addiction Recovery Services (CARS).

“As soon as the ordinance was passed, we knew we were in violation of at least one,” Liana Smith said. “So we immediately got in the car and started driving around, trying to find a place that was within the ordinance regulations.”

NOT AN EASY MOVE

The task of finding a new building within those regulations took a lot of work for the pair.

Previously, a law had been passed to put a cap on medical marijuana centers, which would have left Cortez with only three operational facilities. After that cap was removed in July, the zoning requirements set forth only left opportunity for a maximum of six businesses.

It wasn’t easy to move. There were not many places to choose from that support the needs of their business, met the city’s requirements and were available to rent.

“It was also hard to find someone who was open-minded enough to rent to us. We were turned down by one place because of the nature of our business,” Garrett Smith said.

Lucky for this duo, they were able to find a new location. But it needed work and remodeling.

“This building was a complete shell,” Garrett Smith said. “We redid everything — the lighting, the floors, the paint, everything. At the old location we didn’t have to change much, so with this building there were even more requirements we had to meet.”

On July 24, they were granted their license to sell medical marijuana at their new location and shortly after they began work on the building. On October 16, The Herbal Alternative reopened. The downtown location had 2,500 square-feet of usable space. Their new place has just over 4,000 square-feet of usable space.

BUSINESS MINDED

The mother and son duo come from Durango and acquired the shop from the previous owners in January of this year. The original business was not open at the time because they were unable to keep up with the regulations that come with the territory of such a business. Liana Smith says it is very expensive to run a medical marijuana facility.

But the Smiths are no strangers to small business ownership. They also own Lady Falconburgh’s restaurant in Durango.

“We want people to know that we did not take over this business because of the product or because we thought it would be fun. We have the experience. We are business owners coming into this,” Liana Smith said.

In fact, the main reason they became advocates for medical marijuana is because Garrett himself is a medical marijuana card holder. In 2004, he began having grand mal seizures, which his mother says he never had as a child. He had been in the military prior to that for five years.

“We think it is from a head injury he got while he was in the Coast Guard,” she said.

Garrett Smith was taking medication for his seizures when he started using medical marijuana. The research he found on the benefits of the plant led him to give the treatment a try.

“Ever since he has been using medical marijuana, his seizures have lessened even more than when he was just on the medication,” his mom said.

Both Garrett and Liana strongly believe that marijuana can and does help the patients that use the drug. Not only because they’ve done the homework, but because they’ve seen it firsthand. First with Garrett and now with people who walk through their doors.

“I didn’t know what to expect with our customers when we first opened,” Liana Smith said. “But we see a majority of elderly people, people who have had surgeries and just very ill people.”

They have even seen patients who can barely walk through their door or who need help sitting down.

Medical marijuana card holders are allowed to purchase two ounces a day from a facility. The facility itself has to have enough space to house the growth and retail of the plant, as required by Montezuma County laws.

“We have medical files and records just like an actual doctor’s office,” Garrett Smith said. “We are on 24 hours a day surveillance and every plant has a barcode to track what we are growing and what we sell.”

Patients are slowly trickling in as they realize a new center has opened, he said. They hope to have more hospice patients and are now looking at constructing a kitchen in the upper level of the building. In order to do that they will have to go through additional guidelines, this time through the health department.

“We just want to provide the best possible care for the people who really need it,” Garrett Smith said. “The medical marijuana movement based on care and compassion for patients has, in my experience, been true.”

rachels@cortezjournal.com

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