Medical Marijuana Businesses Prepare to go "Retail"

Oct 16, 2013

The Aspen City Council this week approved the sale of recreational marijuana. At first, this marijuana will be sold by stores currently operating as medical marijuana dispensaries or those that have applied to become a dispensary. City officials say as many as eight shops could part of this new industry come January.

One of those is LEAF Aspen, which is currently a medical marijuana shop. Next year LEAF Aspen plans to sell both recreational and medical pot. The storefront is in Aspen, and the store grows marijuana at a storage unit in Carbondale. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen took a tour.

Jesse Miller leads me through an expansive and fragrant storage unit in Carbondale that feels more like a factory. He’s co-owner of LEAF Aspen, a medical marijuana grower and dispensary. The business also sells marijuana infused products to dispensaries around the state.

Here, nearly 500 marijuana plants are nurtured to maturity so their harvested buds can be sold at LEAF’s storefront in Aspen. The process starts in what’s called the “clone room.” Miller points to a set of “baby” marijuana plants.

"We take these and cut them off of a growing plant, treat it, pop it in here and they grow roots."

These small plants are then potted individually and put beneath so-called grow lights. The little cuttings are more susceptible to disease than their older counterparts, so Miller watches them closely.

From here, the plants move across the hall into what’s called a “veg” room where the temperature is closely monitored and fans constantly circulate air. The plants live here anywhere from four to six weeks.

"These guys are pretty new, they just got put in here, these guys have been in here a couple weeks. We can come in, cut this off and make clones out of these, or once they reach a certain size we move them down into “flower."

Downstairs, the “flower” room is where the plants ultimately grow to maturity. Special care is given at this stage to regulate humidity and light.

"They don’t start producing flowers until we move them down here. They’re all tagged, say what the strain is, when they went in and which patient each plant is dedicated to," Miller says.

Miller and his staff grow marijuana for about 50 patients, although they only get a certain amount of the harvest. Thirty percent can be sold to other stores around the state. Local patients get the rest. In one of three flower rooms, Miller estimates about nine pounds of marijuana will be harvested.

The next stop for the marijuana is a quieter room at the end of the hallway.

In the middle of the room, employee Mark Simpkins is focused, carefully trimming green and purple buds.

"I’m just trimming all the leaves off, so you end up with just a solid bud, with no leaf on it," Simpkins says.

Customers want as little leaf and stem in the bag as possible because the leaves are harsh-tasting, says Simpkins.

Despite the trimmings, Jesse Miller says, nothing is wasted.

"We’re not losing any of the material through trimming it because we have an MIP license, and we process it through our MIP," he says.

The MIP, or Marijuana Infused Products, license allows them to develop products like hash oil and butter. That kind of production happens in a separate room that looks more like a science lab then a marijuana grow site.

LEAF Aspen will have to increase its production area once it starts selling retail marijuana next year. Miller says adding recreational is a no-brainer.

"We think the retail numbers are going to be triple what medicinal is in terms of sales, so just from a numbers standpoint, it makes sense."

He thinks his shop in Aspen will draw business from tourists. It’ll be a needed jolt because right now, he says business is tough because of competition and rising fees.

"The taxes are going up, our profits are going down, a lot of landlords the second and third year in come in and want to raise the rent because they think we’re rolling in cash. I think retail will help the supply and demand issue and prices will probably start to creep upwards a little bit," he says.

Right now, the business is searching for a new spot to grow additional plants for the retail end. The store in Aspen will also add a cash register - one for medical patients and another for those buying marijuana recreationally.