The end of Durango’s moratorium on recreational marijuana operations arrives today with only the promise of a future harvest.
The city of Durango will begin accepting applications for recreational marijuana licensing at 7:30 a.m. today. However, officials expect it to take several weeks, or even months, to navigate city and state approval processes and begin to sell recreational pot.
Dispensary employees began lining up at River City Hall on Monday morning to be first in line. Adam Gifford, co-owner of Acceptus Group, was first at 5 a.m. Nick Thompson, an Acceptus Group grower, arrived later in the morning to take over from Gifford.
The city is accepting applications in a first-come, first-served manner. Marijuana entrepreneurs are eager to be near the front of the line, in part to lock in a good location – the City Council decided to limit retail marijuana shops to one per block.
Thompson said he didn’t mind waiting in line.
“We got ice cream,” he said.
Thompson passed the time with Ashley Peterson, a fellow Acceptus Group grower, and Jordan Smith, regional manager of a competing marijuana shop, Rocky Mountain High.
Peterson was lounging in her sleeping bag in preparation for the night shift.
“I’m a nature lover, so it’s not a big deal at all,” she said.
Peterson said she was not concerned for her safety sleeping outside in the city. “It’s Durango – it’s not like we’re sleeping in Denver.”
The trio, along with Smith’s sister, spent the time chatting and browsing their cellphones. Thompson said city staff members had been accommodating toward the marijuana folks in line.
“People here were really nice,” said Thompson. “They let us use their bathrooms, trash cans, Wi-Fi.”
The city is allowing existing medical marijuana dispensaries to apply for recreational pot licenses before any potential new competitors. All eight of Durango’s dispensaries are expected to apply beginning today.
The marijuana businesses must complete a lengthy approval process. First, the proposed location must meet with zoning approval from the city’s Community Development department, including a 14-day period to notify neighbors. Next, the state of Colorado must approve the location.
The business also needs city business and sales-tax licenses. The Local Licensing Authority, a municipal panel, must review and approve the recreational license after a public hearing. Finally, the premises must pass an inspection before opening.
“It’ll probably be three or four months, or longer, before Durango will see its first recreational business operating ... and that’s just a guess,” said Greg Hoch, the city’s director of Planning and Community Development.
For the local marijuana industry, it’s been a long wait. Recreational sales began in Telluride on Jan. 1.
“It took too long,” said Smith. “We’re missing out on peak tourism. I send 20 people a day, minimum to Telluride or Ridgway, and that’s just phone calls.”
A 14-day period to notify neighbors is part of the city’s zoning approval process. An earlier version of this story said the 14-day notification period occurs after the zoning process.