PAGOSA SPRINGS – Retail marijuana is open for business on the outskirts of Pagosa Springs, drawing local residents and visitors from throughout the Four Corners.
Good Earth Meds, a 5-year-old medical marijuana dispensary at 600 Cloman Blvd., opened its retail floor Friday. It was beaten to the punch by a week by Pagosa Organic Therapeutics, 298 Bastille Drive, which opened its retail side Sept. 5.
“We’re the first in the Four Corners,” said Jeremy Bonin, 36, who owns Pagosa Organic Therapeutics, or POT, with a business partner, Jason Werby.
Retail marijuana stores can sell to any adult age 21 or older, not just those with medical marijuana cards.
As Durango closes in on approving its own retail operations, Archuleta County becomes the closest location to Durango to offer retail pot, about 55 miles away. Until recently, Ridgway was the closest, followed by Telluride.
Up to four retail marijuana shops could open in Durango in coming weeks.
Durango’s retail marijuana applicants must be approved by the local licensing authority and pass a city of Durango site inspection.
“I would say mid-October at the earliest,” said Greg Hoch, the city of Durango’s director of planning and community development.
The town of Pagosa Springs still maintains a moratorium on marijuana operations, so both retail shops are located west of city limits.
Predictably, the Pagosa Springs-area shops are drawing strong business from northern New Mexico, which has a much stricter medical marijuana regime and prohibits retail pot shops.
Manny Dale, 35, drove up from Chama, New Mexico, on Friday to visit Good Earth Meds. He said he’s had back and hip pain since he was in a car wreck with a drunken driver. He also suffers from diabetes and anxiety. As a New Mexico resident, Dale cannot get a Colorado medical marijuana card, but he can buy retail pot.
“My kids just think it’s my medicine,” he said.
A bustle of customers came and went from Good Earth Meds on Friday, including a baby boomer couple from Oklahoma who did not want to be interviewed.
Good Earth Meds was founded by Bill Delany, 65, a Pagosa Springs resident who turned to medical marijuana after being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 1999.
He was dissatisfied with his regime of pharmaceuticals used to treat the incurable condition.
“From the first puff, I knew I had hope with Crohn’s disease,” he said.
For Delany, marijuana enabled him to get off disability payments and get to work in the industry. He stands out as an older man in an industry dominated by younger entrepreneurs. As a result, Delany believes Good Earth draws more older customers than many marijuana groups.
Good Earth has nine employees, while POT has 16. Colorado’s legal marijuana industry has put to work many who first gained relevant experience illegally growing at home and some who were underemployed or unemployed.
Rick McFadden, 60, was hired by Good Earth after being laid off from a job delivering organic juice. A longtime home marijuana grower, he believes he’s found his calling working as an assistant grower and trimmer.
“As soon as I started smoking, this was all I ever wanted to do,” he said.
McFadden stood hand-trimming a plant with Stephen Erickson, 29. Erickson said he makes $15 an hour trimming plants and helping in the grow operation.
They trimmed side by side with the plants hanging from a chain attached to the ceiling. They worked their scissors around the plants, the leaves falling to the ground. The scene was not unlike a barber shop – just with stronger smells.
Good Earth Meds and POT take different approaches to growing. Jay Diffey, 38, is co-owner of Good Earth Meds and the head grower. He grows only in soil, makes his own fertilizer and dries the plants on coat hangers for two weeks or more.
“I’m just not in a hurry,” he said.
Diffey’s operation is almost fully organic. The only exception, he said, is a rooting gel used early in the growing process that is not organic.
At POT, the grow operation is hydroponic. Bonin said hydroponic growing has several advantages, including speed, yield and cleanliness.
Each business is waiting to see how competition from Durango impacts their sales. Until retail sales in Durango begin, the Archuleta County shops hope to draw visitors from their neighboring city.
“Hopefully some Durango people will enjoy the drive to Pagosa,” Bonin said.