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A Look At Recreational Marijuana In The Valley, One Year In

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For one year now, Colorado has allowed recreational marijuana stores to operate. In the Roaring Fork Valley, fourteen recreational pot shops are operating. Aspen Public Radio is examining the legal marijuana business from one end of the Valley to the other and, how momentum has shifted from the mid Valley to  Aspen. Aspen Public Radio’s Elise Thatcher and Marci Krivonen report.

Longtime Carbondale resident Tom Bleskan is standing outside of what could be his new line of work. He’s next to a small warehouse.

"This will be a retail marijuana grow cultivation site," he says.

It would be a big change for Bleskan, who’s worked in construction and business consulting. And if he gets approval, Bleskan would be part of the next big shift in Colorado’s legal marijuana industry. Starting this year, businesses can grow marijuana without running a retail shop too.

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Credit Elise Thatcher
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Tom Bleskan stands in front of a building where he hopes to start a business growing legal marijuana.

"I think it’s a great thing that the state is doing this," Bleskan says. "I’m excited about what we have going on here and I want to be a part of it. And I want to make money."

Bleskan’s a step or two away from getting the go ahead from the Town of Carbondale. The approval hinges on where he would be located, close to the center of town.

Reporter in the field: "We’ve got an excavation services on the north side here it looks like, and town homes or rentals of some kind on the south side."

Bleskan: "...That’s correct And across the street it’s a commercial building. And as you hear, the background noise you’re hearing is a (dry) cleaner’s around the corner."

Bleskan needs clearance to run his operation here because of requirements by the Town of Carbondale, and the state. Restrictions have narrowed where grow operations can happen. And Carbondale officials might change the rules a little, so marijuana-related businesses aren’t so concentrated.

For aspiring grower Tom Bleskan, there’s lots of competition for selling to pot shops in Carbondale. If they’re not growing their own, they can now buy from wholesalers in Denver. So Bleskan is researching the demand.

"I have to tailor my grow to their need. They’re my customers and what they’re looking for, and what their customers are looking for. If I can produce a niche product." 

Carbondale Mayor Stacey Bernot says the number of stores to sell to in Carbondale likely won’t change much. She describes the cap on retail shops as successful. There are four, with room for one more.

"I think having it grow at a smaller, slower pace, and having those caps, at our discretion, I think are important to make sure we don’t overdo it," she says.

Further down valley, Glenwood Springs does not have a formal restriction on the number of retail pot shops — but land use codes have effectively limited them to three. That brings the total between the two towns to seven retail shops.

Further Upvalley in Basalt, the cap on retail and medical marijuana stores is two total. Just one shop is in operation.

Manager of Roots RX Alicia Fetters pops open a container of fragrant marijuana buds.

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Credit Marci Krivonen
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Roots RX Manager Alicia Fetters points out some of the shop's edible offerings.

"It smells like it tastes. It smells really sweet and good," she says.

Roots RX is Basalt’s lone pot shop, and is on the southside of town. It’s in a multi-use building near car repair businesses and a plant nursery.

The business opened in November. And so far, business has been so-so.

"It could be a little busier, if we weren’t tucked away," says Fetters. "No one really comes to this side of Basalt. So if we had a better location I think we’d be a little busier, but we’re doing great."

Roots RX is a chain. Its original store is in the Vail Valley and the owners are hoping to open up in Leadville. Fetters says although there are many places to buy pot legally in the state, the black market continues to be the company’s biggest competitor.

"In Colorado the black market is up there because “rec” is up there. It’s a lot cheaper than “rec.” The state added all these taxes that people don’t want to pay."

Fetters says she feels Basalt welcomed the store to the community. Mayor Jacque Whitsitt cut the ribbon the day it opened.

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Credit Marci Krivonen
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Basalt's mayor cut the ribbon when the town's first retail marijuana store opened in November of 2014.

"In my opinion, every business is a good addition to Basalt. I think things are really starting to crank up in Basalt and this is just one more business that’s hopefully going to be successful," says Whitsitt.

A short drive up Highway 82 brings you to the Valley’s mecca of marijuana: Aspen. Here, six retail marijuana stores are targeting locals, wealthy visitors and X Gamers. City Clerk Linda Manning says Aspen’s tourist base is a draw for marijuana entrepreneurs.

"I think Aspen in and of itself is appealing. The brand “Aspen” says a lot."

The city of Aspen doesn’t have a cap on the number of stores that can operate but, the market may be becoming saturated. For the first time in about a year, the city isn’t looking over a marijuana application this month. In the other Upvalley community of Snowmass Village, a moratorium on recreational marijuana stores is in place until 2017.

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