Eagle County currently licenses only eight marijuana dispensaries, all of which are located in commercial districts within unincorporated areas. Lounges and cannabis clubs are prohibited. No retail (recreational use) or medical marijuana (MMJ) business may be located within 200 feet of residential zones, drug/alcohol rehab facilities, community centers, public buildings, schools, parks, playgrounds, or child care facilities. Retail business may not be located within 500 feet of any private or public high school.
The Town of Eagle is the only metropolitan area in the county to allow the sale of recreational or medical marijuana. The City Council has capped the number of licenses at two for each of the three types of MMJ businesses (Medical Marijuana Centers, Medical Marijuana Infused Product Manufacturers and Medical Marijuana Optional Premises Cultivation Operations) until Eagle’s population passes 10,000. Once this happens, a maximum of three licenses for each type of MMJ business may be issued.
Any retail marijuana store, cultivation facility or infused products manufacturing facility requires a Special Use Permit and is subject to the same zoning restrictions as MMJ businesses. A maximum of one of each type of business per 5,000 people in Eagle (or fraction thereof) is permitted. The town defers to the State of Colorado for retail businesses licensing, but places a condition of approval for any such business licensed by the state.
The consumption of marijuana on U.S. Forest Service land, which encompasses the vast majority of Colorado’s ski resorts, is illegal under federal law. Vail Resorts do not permit the consumption of marijuana in or on any of its lifts, facilities or premises. Using ski facilities under the influence of drugs (including marijuana) or alcohol is an illegal violation of the Colorado Ski Safety Act.
The Vail City Council had already banned the sale of marijuana when Amendment 64 was passed in 2012, and currently enforces a moratorium on all such businesses until at least September 2015.
In addition to the Colorado State tax, the town of Eagle levies a $5 local tax on every cannabis transaction, with an annual revenue cap of $50,000. There is no additional sales tax on marijuana in unincorporated Eagle County.
On July 7, 2015, the County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the opening of its newest marijuana farm, suggesting that support for the industry in Eagle County remains strong among its legislators.
However, this came only two days after the Vail Town Council voted unanimously to extend a temporary ban on retail cannabis sales within town limits for 60 days. The moratorium has been extended several times, and as of August 2016 was still in effect.
There is little evidence to suggest that local police are significantly opposed to the proliferation of cannabis business in Eagle County. Rather, law enforcement has been more concerned about stopping underage use and the accidental consumption of edibles.
The Pitkin County Licensing Authority is authorized to issue medical marijuana center licenses, optional premises cultivation licenses, and medical marijuana-infused products manufacturing licenses. All three may operate in the same location as long as the operator holds a separate license for each.
No such facility may be located within 1,000 feet of alcohol or drug treatment centers, child care facilities, or K-12 private or public schools in unincorporated Pitkin County. In addition, any property housing such a facility may not be located within a multi-residential structure.
The City of Aspen allows both medical and retail marijuana business to operate within city limits, but only grants retail licenses to existing MMJ businesses. There are currently seven retail marijuana stores in Aspen: Silverpeak Apothecary, Native Roots Aspen, Green Dragon, Leaf, Alternative Medical Solutions, Roots Rx, and Stash.
Retail marijuana stores may only be open from 9:00am - 9:00pm. The city has prohibited smoke lounges and cannabis clubs.
There is no additional tax on marijuana sales in Pitkin County or in the City of Aspen.
Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo publicly advocates safe, responsible use of marijuana by adults, and supports a common-sense approach to consumption. DiSalvo’s primary concerns are individuals who drive under the influence, smoking in public, and preventing underage consumption.
“I think we need to be responsible adults with this,” he said to The Aspen Times in a December 2014 interview. “On a social level, please purchase, consume and dispose of marijuana responsibly. On a criminal level, my number one concern is driving.”
At this time, there are no marijuana businesses licensed and operating in unincorporated Summit County. However, there are businesses operating in the towns of Breckenridge, Frisco, and Silverthorne.
No marijuana business may be located within:
Marijuana businesses may be open only from 8:00am - 7:00pm, Monday through Sunday.
The Town of Breckenridge has established a moratorium on new marijuana licenses until July 1, 2016. No applications for new licenses will be accepted until that date at the earliest.
In Breckinridge, a medical marijuana business or retail marijuana establishment may only be located within land use districts 5, 9, 11, 19, 20, or 31. No MMJ business or retail marijuana establishment shall be located:
Licensed marijuana businesses operating within Breckinridge city limits may only be open from 8:00am - 10:00pm, Monday through Sunday.
In addition to a municipal sales tax of 2.5%, the Town of Breckenridge levies a 5% excise tax on all medical and retail cannabis sales.
As of August 2016, Breckenridge was still imposing a moratorium on new marijuana business licenses in the city, citing concerns about an excess of marijuana businesses and customers in the area.
In December 2014, the Breckenridge Town Council voted to restrict cannabis business from operating on Main Street. Its primary concern is not about cannabis sales, but where they should be allowed. For some on the council, marijuana businesses on Main Street pose too great a risk to the town’s family-friendly tourism brand, which is a crucial aspect in remaining competitive with other winter vacation spots such as Aspen and Vail.
Like elsewhere in Colorado, law enforcement efforts have focused on educating the community about responsible consumption, preventing underage use, and curtailing smoking in public. Though they have been relatively accepting of properly licensed businesses, police in Breckenridge have not hesitated to act swiftly against violations of the law. One local MMJ dispensary was shut down in late 2014 (pending an investigation) when its owner was arrested attempting to sell 100 pounds of marijuana to an undercover police officer in Nashville, Tennessee.
Although it is much smaller than other Colorado markets, the Colorado Mountain area has exhibited some of the highest growth rates in the state since legalization in 2014. Total sales are projected to top $45 million in 2016, climbing to $63 million by 2020. Much of this growth is driven by tourism in areas such as Aspen, where dispensaries cater to tourists lodging at one of the area’s many ski resorts or mountain cabins.
Other areas, such as the “Green Mile” in Eagle-Vail, attract high-profile customers in search of the best marijuana strains available, boosting the region’s reputation as a mecca for marijuana tourism. Accordingly, recreational sales are expected to account for nearly two-thirds of legal marijuana sales in the region. This is a significantly higher proportion than in other major markets such as Denver.
Current estimates predict the Colorado Mountain area growth rates to outpace statewide growth rates over the next few years. The recreational sales growth rate is expected to level out at approximately 10% per year over the next few years, compared to a statewide sales growth rate of roughly 7% per year. Medical sales are also expected to remain steady at approximately 8.5% per year as the recreational market grows larger. The expanding capacity of local cultivation, increasing numbers of dispensaries, and continued demand from tourists and other nonresident recreational users are all expected to serve as drivers of continued regional growth in the retail market.
Aside from taxation and banking difficulties facing legal marijuana dispensaries throughout Colorado, some cannabis businesses in the Colorado Mountain area still face opposition from local governments and residents concerned about the growth of the marijuana industry.
The town of Vail in Eagle County has enacted a ban on recreational marijuana sales, concerned about the effects on local tourism, while the town of Dillon in Summit County placed a moratorium on recreational dispensaries after issuing just three licenses. Blue River in Summit County not only prohibits the recreational cultivation and sale of marijuana, but also limits medical cultivation to “primary residences”, effectively preventing any large-scale medical cultivation. Residents of Basalt in Pitkin County have filed complaints regarding a strong marijuana odor emanating from an indoor grow facility owned by High Valley Farms, the primary supplier for the high-end Aspen recreational dispensary Silverpeak Apothecary. As of this report’s publication, county officials have declared they may not renew the facility’s license if the odor persists into September 2016, when the license comes up for annual renewal.
These examples highlight the fact that despite the explosive growth of the local recreational market, cannabis businesses are still faced with legal limits to growth in a number of communities throughout the region.
Although the legal marijuana market in the Colorado Mountain Region is mostly noted for its recreational marijuana sales, the area also contains a significant amount of marijuana cultivation. While the area’s geography lends itself to outdoor cultivation, there are also a number of large indoor grow operations, including those by large medical dispensaries such as Alpenglow Botanicals and High Country Healing. Statewide chain Native Roots also maintains retail grow operations in the area and one of the area’s larger outdoor cultivation facilities is owned by the aforementioned High Valley Farms.
Most edibles and concentrates available in the region are produced by larger processors based in Denver and other parts of Colorado. However, there are a number of smaller processing facilities, most of which are affiliated with the region’s larger dispensaries. One of the region’s most notable processors is Rx Green, which manufactures transdermal patches and vape oil. Local dispensary chain Alpenglow Botanicals also manufactures its own line of waxes and shatter.
There are currently 12 medical and 31 recreational dispensaries operating in the Colorado Mountain Region. Recreational demand is strong in the area, especially during the winter season when the area’s numerous ski resorts see an influx of tourists. The small mountain community of Eagle-Vail is home to four recreational dispensaries along a strip of highway known as the “Green Mile,” which is becoming a mecca for local marijuana tourism.
Major statewide chain Native Roots operates four different dispensaries in the area and the recreational market is expected to see significant growth as more dispensaries are established to meet demand.
The closest commercial marijuana testing facility to the region is GreenHill Labs, located in Carbondale, Garfield County. Greenhill is one of only six testing facilities in the state certified by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to offer microbial testing. There are currently 16 licensed testing facilities in the state.
In addition to GreenHill Labs, many marijuana dispensaries outsource their testing to labs in Denver. This is in part due to the fact 9 of the 28 licensed testing labs in the state are located in Denver. As the recreational market matures, demand for lab tested products is expected to increase.
Various economic, political and demographic aspects of the Colorado Mountain Region are influenced by the presence of several world-famous ski resorts which dominate the local economies. Though the Mountain Region is relatively sparsely populated with just over 100,000 people in Pitkin, Summit, and Eagle counties combined, the ski resorts typically draw millions of tourists each year. Residents of the region have the following attributes:
High Education Levels:
This region boasts excellent higher education numbers, with the following percent of residents 25 or older holding a Bachelor's degree or higher (2009-2013):
Between 10% and 20% more of each county´s residents have completed a college degree or greater when compared to the state, which itself has a substantially higher education level than the U.S. average.
High Income Levels:
While the cost of living in the Mountain Region is between 50% (Summit) and 84% (Pitkin) higher than the U.S. average, median incomes in the area are some of the highest in the state.
More Men Than Women:
All three counties have fewer women than men. Summit shows the largest difference with a 46% female population and a 54% male population. Colorado State is divided equally across genders.
Predominantly White Population:
The three counties and state have majority white populations, which make up at least two-thirds of the populace of each.
Varied Age Groups:
The age groups vary little between Summit and Eagle counties and the state, with median ages between 34 and 36. Pitkin´s median age of 43 is an above average exception.
Per the results of a July 2014 state-produced report on the marijuana industry, 90% of recreational sales in mountain resort communities go to out-of-state visitors. This phenomenon has also been reported on by Mountain Region news sources such as the Vail Daily, which noted the growing trend of tourists interested in and inquiring about where to buy marijuana legally.
Furthermore, because the residential populations of these counties are so small, they also have a relatively low demand for medical marijuana. Combined, less than 3,000 patients in Eagle, Pitkin and Summit Counties make up approximately 2.4% of the medical marijuana registry, while the counties make up 1.9% of Colorado´s population.
It can be inferred from this information local demographics play little to no role in the demand for marijuana in the Colorado Mountain Region, though they certainly may play an important role in local politics and regulations of marijuana.
Those who have the most significant influence on the Colorado Mountain Region´s marijuana market are clearly its tourists, whose demographic profiles are extremely difficult to capture as they are constantly changing and not necessarily recorded anywhere (as are demographics concerning local residents). A more reliable way to anticipate market demand in this region is to look at tourism in general, as well as the factors influencing those who might travel to Colorado for cannabis.
The head of the Colorado Tourism Office says the state isn't tracking the role of marijuana in tourist behavior. The lack of a good tracking system presents major obstacles in the effort to determine the motivations tourists have for visiting Colorado´s ski resorts, as well as to what extent they are influenced by the legality of marijuana there. However, some assumptions can safely be made about Colorado´s tourism numbers and their effect on the marijuana market:
Changes in the tourism industry greatly affect local residents whose livelihoods depend entirely on the success of ski resorts - communities such as Vail, Aspen, and Breckenridge are synonymous with their ski mountains - and in 2013 alone, tourism brought over $17 billion to the state. For this reason, local politics and policies toward marijuana tend to treat tourism concerns with great importance. The effects of winter tourism on Colorado´s employment and the value of the winter tourism industry are highlighted in the charts to the right and below.
Because tourism is of such great concern to this region, politicians and citizens alike are very sensitive to any changes that may negatively impact this industry, including the introduction of commercial sales of marijuana to their towns. So far, there has been no indication legal marijuana has damaged tourism, Colorado's number two industry. But regardless, many of the Colorado Mountain Region´s cities and counties have been conservative about marijuana sales and regulation, citing concerns about the quality of their resorts´ images.
However, all three counties, Pitkin, Summit and Eagle, have shown overwhelming popular support of marijuana legalization and their local governments have permitted sales, cultivation, product manufacturing and testing in unincorporated areas of the counties.
Additionally, two of their three cities housing major ski resorts - Breckenridge and Aspen - have allowed marijuana dispensaries and stores to open, within limits. Specific local political conditions are broken down by county below.
Pitkin County, with a population of only 17,658 people, houses two massive winter resorts (Aspen-Snowmass and Aspen Highlands) that were ranked among the top 10 ski resorts in North America in 2014-2015. Pitkin County´s government has allowed for medical and retail sales, but has taken steps to restrict and limit the consumption of marijuana locally. Aspen has permitted eight retail marijuana shops, the Aspen Daily News reports, but the Aspen City Council decided against allowing clubs where people could gather and smoke marijuana. Over three-fourths of voters supported recreational marijuana´s legalization in Pitkin, so local politics can be expected to remain in strong support of marijuana.
Summit County has a population of nearly 30,000 people and includes America´s second-most visited ski resort, Breckenridge, which averages more than 1.6 million annual visits. Breckenridge, popularly known as a “the Amsterdam of the Rockies”, was an early and enthusiastic support base for marijuana legalization. Summit voters overwhelmingly supported Amendment 64 to legalize recreational marijuana (with 69% support) in 2012.
In September 2014, however, residents of Breckenridge voted against retail marijuana being sold in Main Street shops (downtown, but not elsewhere) by a margin of more than two to one. According to Vail Daily, opponents were concerned marijuana sales would tarnish the town’s family-friendly image, driving potential visitors to other ski towns. Proponents said Breckenridge was already a national poster child for retail marijuana and if the town’s current crop of dispensaries was any indication, there is demand for sales in the heart of downtown.
Eagle County has a population of 53,655 people and includes America’s number one most-visited ski resort, Vail Mountain, which averages more than 1.6 million visits per year.
Nearly two-thirds of Eagle County voters supported Amendment 64 legalizing recreational marijuana. While retail marijuana sales are permitted in Eagle County, the operation of marijuana social club or lounges is currently prohibited.
Though Vail voters approved Amendment 64 in 2012 by a large margin, the Vail City Council has consistently voted to put bans upon marijuana. In July 2015, it approved an ordinance creating a 60-day extension of the town’s current moratorium on retail marijuana sales, voting 7-0 to approve, citing the value of the Vail name. The town has temporarily banned retail sales of marijuana since the 2012 passage of Amendment 64. The presence of Vail Mountain, the centerpiece of a $3.1 billion public company Vail Resorts, which does not permit the consumption of marijuana in or on any of its lifts, facilities or premises under its control has likely had some influence on local politics and policy toward marijuana, and will continue to do so in the future.
Although the Colorado Mountain Region is one of the state’s smaller dispensary markets with only several dozen licensed dispensaries, the area’s abundance of ski resorts ensure it is an important location for recreational marijuana. The statewide legalization of recreational marijuana has also caused the Winter X Games, held in Aspen, to become one of the most important annual events for the local marijuana industry.
Major statewide chain Native Roots runs a recreational dispensary in Aspen that was the primary force behind the Native Roots Tree House event, a four-night private party where many of the dispensary’s top strains were made available to guests. The event featured performances from Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa, and helped solidify Aspen’s position as in important destination for marijuana tourism.
The community of Eagle-Vail is home to the “Green Mile”, a stretch of US Highway 6 home to four recreational dispensaries: Native Roots Eagle, Roots Rx, Sweet Leaf Pioneer, and Rocky Road. Competition among the four dispensaries has led each to invest in a wide selection of marijuana products and attractive store interiors, turning the region into a new hub for marijuana tourism.
Among the region’s notable medical dispensary chains is Green Dragon Cannabis Company, a vertically-integrated business that possesses one of the region’s largest grow operations and is valued at approximately $8 million. In addition to its dispensary in Aspen, the chain also runs a dispensary in nearby Glenwood Springs.
As of August 2016, the Colorado Mountain markets are dominated by brand names found in dispensaries throughout Colorado. For edibles, three brands account for the majority: Incredibles accounts for 16.4% of the market, followed by Cheeba Chews with 12.5% and marQaha with approximately 8.4%. Beyond the top three, infused drink maker Keef Cola and Blue Kudu chocolates account for a 5% market share each.
Several concentrates brands also claim significant portions of the Colorado Mountain market. Native Roots Extracts, a line of concentrates belonging to the dispensary chain of the same name, is the top brand with a 7.8% share. All other brands command a less than 1.5% market share, indicating a high level of competition within the local market.
Most edibles and concentrates produced in the Colorado Mountain Region are in-house manufacturers of local dispensaries. For example, Alpenglow Botanicals, a regional chain with dispensary locations in Breckenridge and Dillon, produces its own line of concentrates and infused edibles. Statewide chains with locations in the region, such as Native Roots, also locally distribute their own lines of edibles and concentrates.
Although they only make up a small percentage of the entire Colorado market, the counties of the Colorado Mountain Region (Eagle, Summit, and Pitkin Counties) are an important area for recreational tourism. Following recreational legalization in 2014, legal marijuana sales in the area grew over 190%. Currently, there are 12 medical dispensaries and 31 recreational dispensaries located in the region, although the number of recreational dispensaries is steadily increasing.
Out of state consumers visiting the areas numerous ski resorts and other tourist areas are driving much of the recreational market’s growth. Although it is too early to quantify exact seasonal effects, it is expected with the Winter X Games set to be held in Aspen every year through 2019, the annual influx of winter tourists will play a large part in driving market growth. It should also be noted that demographically, over 40% of marijuana users in the Colorado Mountain Region are classified as heavy users, a much higher proportion than the statewide average (indicating local demand will also continue to generate market growth).
Due to their popularity amongst tourists, edibles are the most popular category of products in the recreational market, with more than 60% in 2016. Edibles are also comparable to flower in the medical market with both categories at approximately 40%. Edibles are much more convenient for use in conjunction with outdoor recreational activities that are popular amongst tourists in the region, including skiing and hiking. Edibles are expected continue to gain popularity through the forecast period, reaching 45% of the medical market and 64% of the recreational market by 2020.
Concentrates are also expected to grow in popularity until they account for approximately 20% of the medical market and 11% of the recreational market.
The ability of the Colorado Mountain market to attract tourists and other nonresidential consumers will determine how long the market’s rapid growth can be sustained. Current demographic data suggests the amount of marijuana sold significantly exceeds local demand, revealing the success of the legal marijuana market is linked to the local tourist industry. Nevertheless, the popularity of local dispensaries with high-profile musicians and athletes, and the success of newly established dispensaries over the most recent ski season, suggest the market still has room to grow. The region will likely evolve into a niche market catering to less budget-conscious consumers in search of high-quality products.
Evolution along these lines can already be found along the “Green Mile” in Eagle-Vail, where four popular recreational dispensaries are located along the same stretch of US Highway 6. Each dispensary seeks to gain competitive advantage by marketing to different niches through a variety of methods such as developing exclusive custom strains, concentrates, and edibles; boasting celebrity endorsements; or even paying special attention to interior design.
As the market matures and competition grows stronger, most dispensaries in the area are expected to increasingly cater to niche markets in order to maintain business. Chains from larger Colorado markets will most likely have a particular advantage, as they will be able to capitalize on prior experience in other markets and connections with processors and cultivators in different parts of Colorado. Denver-based chain Native Roots is an example of this model: the chain runs locations in Aspen and along the “Green Mile” in Eagle-Vail, where local consumers can purchase its exclusive line of concentrates, Native Roots Extracts, which is produced in Denver.
Secondary cannabis businesses will also be an important sector of development for the Colorado Mountain Region in the years to come. As the local recreational market continues to grow, it is expected there will be increasing demand for accommodations catering to marijuana users. There may also be opportunities for services that take consumers on guided tours of notable regional dispensaries and areas of cultivation. One of the keys to sustained growth in the Colorado Mountain area will be the market’s ability to not just supply marijuana, but to cultivate a comprehensive marijuana tourism “experience” that will continue to attract customers from all over the nation and abroad.
The Colorado Mountain area’s marijuana industry’s reliance on recreational tourism may be challenging in the future should other states legalize recreational marijuana. The possibility that competition from alternative areas of marijuana tourism will limit local market growth is noteworthy.
In order to stay competitive, it will be important for marijuana businesses to work with the local tourist industry to continue to boost overall tourist demand for the Colorado Mountain Region, as well as build a place for recreational marijuana consumption to be an integral part of the Colorado tourist experience. This will likely give the local marijuana industry staying power in the event of competition from new recreational markets in other states.
Aside from difficulties regarding federal laws against the sale and consumption of marijuana, municipal bans on recreational sales also constitute potential threats to the marijuana industry. Examples of communities that have banned the sale of recreational marijuana include Vail in Eagle County and Blue River in Summit County.
In addition, the proliferation of recreational cultivation facilities throughout the area has led to sporadic complaints regarding marijuana odor by neighboring residential communities. The inability to handle such complaints smoothly could sour local public opinion and increase the likelihood of municipal action against the marijuana industry.
Although there are currently no private cannabis lounges operating in the Colorado Mountain region, the developing recreational market amongst tourists (who are prohibited from consuming marijuana in hotels) could increase demand for establishments that allow the public consumption of marijuana. In addition to state laws against public consumption, Colorado regulations prohibiting any type of smoking indoors pose another difficulty for potential cannabis lounges. Nevertheless, the explosive growth of the region’s recreational market may provide an impetus for regulatory change.
As the local recreational market continues to grow, it is expected an increasing amount of marijuana and marijuana-infused products sold in the area will be imported from other parts of the state in order to meet demand.
Currently, there are only 5 recreational processing facilities and 10 recreational cultivation facilities in the area, the majority of which each produce for a single dispensary or dispensary chain. While these local facilities will be an important source of local specialties (such as the Alpenglow Botanicals line of concentrates) products produced elsewhere will likely comprise the majority of recreational marijuana sold in the region. Given the abundant statewide supply of marijuana at the moment (and the removal of the state's vertical integration requirement) it is unlikely the Colorado Mountain Region will face supply issues in the foreseeable future.
The strength of demand in the Colorado Mountain recreational market will largely depend on the region’s sustainability as a destination for recreational tourism and the degree of competition it faces from other recreational markets. However, given the exceptional growth in the market following statewide legalization in 2014, it is likely demand will remain strong over the next few years.
It is worth noting the area has a relatively high concentration of heavy marijuana users who also contribute to local demand. Current estimates project a compound annual growth rate of close to 9% in regards to total volume demanded by Colorado Mountain county residents over the next five years.
The Colorado Mountain market is expected to remain quite competitive due to large demand from the local tourism industry. Despite its prominence the market is actually relatively small, currently accounting for only roughly 4.4% of all legal marijuana sales in the state.
In addition, the geographical nature of the area and the small size of resort towns indicate simply finding a place to open a new dispensary will become a competitive endeavor in the near future. Accordingly, it is expected most new dispensaries opening over the next few years will be branches of regional or statewide chains whose financial resources and exclusive brand lines will give them a competitive edge.
Successful independent shops, such as those on the “Green Mile” in Eagle-Vail, will most likely succeed by focusing on specialty, high-quality strains and infused products that appeal to various market niches.