Medical marijuana facilities face an uncertain future

By Michael Maresh Journal staff writer

Medical marijuana providers are adopting a wait-and-see approach to gauge how Amendment 64 will affect their businesses.

Two of the local businesses said they have not seen too much of a decrease in business since Amendment 64 was signed into law in late December which legalized the use and possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The Cortez City Council will make its decision on the regulations in which the state makes late this year.

Nathan Fete, manager of Beacon Wellness, said he has not seen a drop in business since recreational marijuana became legal.

He said there were a few customers who had questions about the new law and wondered if they should renew their medical marijuana cards.

Fete advised them to continue with the cards because the regulations were about a year away.

Fete said when and if the city adopts regulations that would allow marijuana to be sold for recreational purposes, Beacon Wellness would have to look into expanding its business to include the selling of the drug for this purpose.

"We are taking it day by day," Fete said. "We are waiting to see what the regulations are. We would always love to grow in another business. We will see if that fits our business needs."

Herbal Alternative Manager Liana Smith said it is hard to say whether the passage of Amendment 64 is affecting their business since the business recently relocated.

Smith, whose son Garrett Smith owns the business, said the dispensary would need a good track record before it could gauge whether Amendment 64 had an impact.

According to a Denver Post article over the weekend, the medical marijuana industry has already dropped by 40 percent. The article said that there are now 675 medial marijuana facilities in the state. That is down from 1,117 from the summer of 2010.

In the article, a former state official who oversaw the creation of Colorado's medical-marijuana business rules said there will need to be a change in the future.

"We predicted a consolidation," said Matt Cook, who now works as a consultant. "I think it's playing out exactly that way."

Smith was adamant that if the future law would allow them to sell recreational marijuana they would prefer to do so.

Smith also thinks the rules and regulations that will allow the sale of recreational marijuana will result in the end of medical marijuana providers.

She said people are now paying around $100 for a doctor's visit in hopes they can get a card that allows them the right to purchase and consume medical marijuana. She believes this cost will result in their clients buying elsewhere where no card or doctor's prescription will be needed.

"Why do you need that card if you can go anywhere to get it?" she asked.

Smith also said the only way dispensaries will stay in business as a medical marijuana provider is if the taxes on recreational marijuana were extremely high and offset the fees of doctor visits.

Smith added that she is anxiously awaiting the council's decision on whether to allow the drug to be sold in the city.

She said if the council votes not to allow the sale of non-medical marijuana in Cortez, users will travel to Durango or some other Colorado city that allows the sale and the tax money would go to another city.

"That would close (our business)," she said.

Cookie Bennett, who works with Dr. Scott McLaughlin who provides alternative health-care options, including prescriptions for medical marijuana, does not believe medical marijuana dispensaries will be closing.

She said when the marijuana rules and regulations are decided on it will deal with only the product that can be smoked.

The marijuana ointments, edibles, lotions and drinks will only be available at medical marijuana facilities.

Bennett, who travels around the region, is in Cortez every Friday for appointments.

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