Colorado Awards the World's First Recreational Pot License


Westword reports that Annie's, a medical marijuana center in Central City, Colorado, recently received the state's very first recreational pot license. It is also, as far as I know, the world's very first recreational pot license, since Colorado is the first jurisdiction in history to officially and explicitly allow the sale of cannabis for general consumption. It is ahead of Washington, which started accepting license applications on Monday. And although the sale of marijuana by "coffee shops" has been tolerated in the Netherlands since the 1970s, such transactions remain illegal there. Prior to prohibition, cannabis was an ingredient in various over-the-counter remedies, but they were ostensibly for medical use, and there would have been no reason for a business selling them to hold a marijuana-specific license. So unless pre-prohibition China or India issued licenses to recreational pot shops*, I'd say this is the first. 

Central City, the seat of Gilpin County, is a Rocky Mountain town with a population of about 700 (per the Census Bureau) located 35 miles west of Denver. Annie's started as a convenience store and began selling marijuana to patients with doctor's recommendations a few years ago. It is currently owned by Strainwise, a chain that includes seven other dispensaries in Denver, Idaho Springs, and Wheat Ridge. Three of the company's five outlets in Denver also have been approved to sell marijuana for recreational use, but Annie's got its license first. 

All of the new pot shops will initially be medical marijuana centers crossing over into the recreational market. State law gives them a three-month head start in the licensing process, and local ordinances give them additional protection from competition. For example, Denver, home to more dispensaries than the rest of the state combined, is blocking new entrants until February 1, 2016. The dispensaries would have had an advantage in any case, since their grow operations are already up and running. They are required to grow at least 70 percent of what they sell, a rule the state legislature has extended until next fall. Although growing marijuana for recreational sales will not be officially allowed until January 1, there should be enough leeway in the medical system for pot stores to start serving the general public at that point, without having to wait several months for a new harvest. A dispensary is allowed to grow up to six plants for each patient who designates it as his primary provider, meaning dispensaries can grow substantially more than their current customers are buying, as demonstrated by the fact that they are allowed to sell up to 30 percent of their marijuana to other outlets. That surplus will have to tide the new stores over until next spring.

Addendum: A reader wonders: Will Annie's, given its history as a grocery store, sell snacks along with marijuana products? That sounds like a natural combination, but it is forbidden by Colorado's pot shop regulations.

*Addendum II: Sunil Aggarwal points out that Indian cannabis sellers were licensed by municipal and provincial governments prior to prohibition, a system described in the 1894 Report of the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission. So Colorado's recreational cannabis licenses are the first in modern times, not the first ever.