The Business of Cannabis in the Mile High City

Aug 5, 2016  | 6 min  | Ep4150

In the 1960s, marijuana usage was a symbol of the counterculture movement. At that time, the drug had been illegal for nearly 30 years and carried hefty fines and jail terms for its possession. A movement started for the legalization of the controversial substance.

After almost eight decades, voters in some states have transformed cannabis into a prescription medicine and a legal recreational substance.

And, as John Torpy found out, despite the sometimes heated debate, the economic impact of legal cannabis sales is undeniable.

Marijuana’s recent time in the spotlight, and the grow light, may have many states seeing green this November.

On Election Day this year, voters in several states will decide whether or not marijuana should be made legal for recreational use by adults. Other states will have medical marijuana measures on the ballot. In either case, cannabis is riding a positive wave that is made out of mountains of money.

Mindful Retail Shop: “first I would start by asking you which way you're most comfortable consuming whether it be smoking or an edible form or even a topical form…”

In 2000, the state constitution of Colorado was amended by voters to allow patients and caregivers the legal right to grow and use medical marijuana. A decade later, activists for medical cannabis pushed for a state regulated distribution system in the hopes of keeping the legal dispensaries up and running in the Mile High City. The bill that passed gave structure to a fledgling industry that, in the eyes of the federal government, is illegal.

Industry insiders like Meg Sanders, the CEO of the cannabis retail store Mindful, described the early days of the business as being a bit like the Wild West.

Meg Sanders, CEO MindFul, “Most of us that are still in this industry today kept telling ourselves this is what has to happen when you're building an industry and a business and it's highly regulated of all of these things you know in that time frame we were all growing enough plants to go to federal prison. I mean we just were.”


In 2012, the voters changed Colorado’s Constitution again, to become the first state in the U.S. to approve recreational use of marijuana legal for adults by adopting Amendment 64. The new law made the tiny and heavily regulated medical Marijuana industry a model for blossoming retail enterprises. Growers and governments on either side of the Continental Divide were pushed under the microscope. Officials in other states, and countries around the world, were watching how the details of producing and selling recreational cannabis would get sorted out.

Meg Sanders, CEO Mindful, “what's really interesting about that time frame of when legalization happened here in this state it changed everything about the dynamic of the industry including it becoming much more legitimized.”


And with that legitimacy came a lot of cash. On January 1, 2014, eighteen retail marijuana stores opened in the city of Denver. In the first year of business, the marijuana industry added $22 million to the city’s general fund. For fiscal year 2015, taxable revenue from cannabis sales made up 2.5% of Denver’s budget adding almost $30 million to the City’s coffers.

In 2016, gross marijuana sales of retail and medical cannabis reached just over $853 million in the city and county of Denver. And just over $9 million in taxes from marijuana sales has been injected into various city departments including education, law enforcement, and public health.

For growers, Amendment 64 brought new players.

Meg Sanders, CEO, mindful,” what's nice is we're actually seeing the smart money come to the table that is actually not just bringing money but their resources they're bringing their talents and they're investing not just their dollar but themselves into the space.”


Currently, there are 221 dispensaries conducting business in Denver. The Mile High city put a cap on new store fronts and officials are keeping a close eye on the new money and ideas coming to the table.

Dan Rowland, a policy and communications advisor with the City of Denver, says that for the business to continue thriving, pro pot or not, requires a well-balanced relationship between city, industry, and community.

Dan Rowland, City of Denver, “there's no sense in trying to put it back in the box. You know this is something that again voters asked for and wanted. We knew there was a demand for it in the marketplace for it it's more about managing it correctly and making sure that everyone's voice is heard in the process it and understanding what the effects are on the city and managing those appropriately.”


Some of the industries growing pains include what to do with all the profits. Because marijuana is still labeled a schedule one narcotic by the federal government, bank officials are refusing to accept any money from cannabis retailers for fear of losing their federal insurance. Dispensary owners are left to make all their deals in cash.

Meg Sander, CEO, Mindful,” I feel like we go above and beyond in our community, we're always going to have people that don't care for this.”

As Denver and other Colorado communities blaze retail trails for cannabis, everything that happens will be closely monitored by the worldwide community.

The issue of marijuana legalization will be appearing on ballots in November of 2016. California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts are considering recreational use while Missouri, Arkansas, and Florida have put medical marijuana up for a vote. And as the business of growing and selling marijuana gains momentum, industry insiders say it’s only the beginning.

Meg Sanders, CEO, Mindful, “Right now I think we're dealing with this tiny little finite amount of customer base/ and then you never have enough product. That is the one thing in Colorado, there is still just not enough product. It’s just amazing to me.”


For Market to Market, I’m John Torpy 

Grinnell Mutual Insurance