Pubdate: Sat, 11 Jan 2014
Source: Times Herald, The (Norristown, PA)
Copyright: 2014 The Times Herald
Author: Alison Vekshin, Bloomberg News


Pot Prices Double As Retailers Roll Out the Green Carpet

SAN FRANCISCO - At Medicine Man Denver, a shop in Colorado's capital 
that began selling marijuana for recreational use last week, people 
waited in line to get their first taste of legal weed. Some shouted 
"Freedom!" to the cheering crowd as they walked out with bags of 
dope. They also paid about double the cost of medical marijuana.

Customers were charged $45 for an eighth of an ounce of recreational 
pot, compared with $25 for an identical amount that he sells for 
medical purposes, said Andy Williams, the president and chief 
executive officer.

"They're not used to coming into a facility and paying $25 an eighth, 
so when they come in, it's just whatever the price is," Williams, 45, 
said by telephone. "Having the ability to buy safe, reliable, quality 
marijuana in an environment that's fun and exciting sure beats going 
in a back alley and saying, 'Hey buddy, you got a bag?'"

The retail price of marijuana in Colorado has doubled since Jan. 1, 
when the state became the first to legalize sales to anyone 21 and 
older. Pot for recreational use sells for an average of $400 an 
ounce, compared with $200 an ounce that Colorado retailers collect 
for medical marijuana, said Aaron Smith, executive director of the 
National Cannabis Industry Association, a Washington-based trade group.

"That's just supply and demand," Smith said. "As more businesses open 
and the businesses get a sense of what the demand is and are able to 
meet it, the prices will go back down."

About 21 percent in state and local taxes is charged on the sale of 
recreational dope, said Amber Miller, a spokeswoman for the City and 
County of Denver.

Colorado voters approved a ballot measure in November 2012 to 
decriminalize the drug in defiance of federal law, which still 
classifies marijuana as an illegal substance. A similar measure was 
approved in Washington state, where shops are set to open later this year.

The changes come as marijuana use is being redefined in the United 
States. Twenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized 
medical marijuana use, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is planning to 
revive a 1980 law to allow some hospitals to make use of the drug for 
patients with cancer, glaucoma and other illnesses.

Shop owners in the Denver area say they've raised prices in response 
to the high demand as consumers formed lines around the block to buy 
the drug legally.

Bud Med, a shop in the Denver suburb of Edgewater, rolled out a green 
carpet for consumers waiting in the snow on the first day of sales, 
said Brooke Gehring, 33, owner of Patients Choice of Colorado, which 
has four shops including Bud Med. Customers asked for their receipts 
with the Jan. 1, 2014, date to keep as a memento, she said.

"Everyone was excited to be a part of history and to be able to make 
their first legal marijuana purchase," Gehring said.

At Bud Med, an eighth of an ounce of recreational marijuana was going 
for about $55, compared with about $25 for medical marijuana, she said.

"It is very comparable to what black market prices are," Gehring said.

She said her business costs have increased because of licensing, 
meeting compliance requirements and additional staff. Higher prices 
also help keep her from running out of inventory, she said.

"We probably won't truly understand what that demand is for another 
three to six months, when more shops are open across the state, to 
see if this will be a steady crowd," Gehring said. "It's always 
easier to lower our prices than to raise our prices."

Licenses for 136 marijuana stores, a majority in Denver, were mailed 
Dec. 23, the state Revenue Department said in a statement. 
Recreational marijuana businesses can open only after receiving both 
a state and local license, said Julie Postlethwait, a spokeswoman for 
the state's Marijuana Enforcement Division.

In Denver, 18 shops received state and local licenses in time to 
begin selling marijuana Jan. 1, according to the Department of Excise 
and Licenses. Five marijuana-infused product manufacturers and 27 
growers also received licenses.

Colorado residents with a photo identification showing they are at 
least 21 may buy as much as one ounce of pot in a single transaction, 
while those from out of state can get a quarter ounce. Customers 
can't consume the product in public, including at the shops.

Colorado projects $578.1 million a year in combined wholesale and 
retail marijuana sales to yield $67 million in tax revenue, according 
to the Legislative Council of the Colorado General Assembly. 
Wholesale transactions taxed at 15 percent will finance school 
construction, while the retail levy of 10 percent will fund 
regulation of the industry.

At Colorado Cannabis Facility in Denver, co-owner Larry Nassau said 
he's charging $40 for an eighth of an ounce for recreational 
marijuana and $50 for an eighth of a higher quality, compared with 
$30 and $35 for the same amount of medical marijuana. Customers are 
willing to pay the elevated prices, he said.

"There's just this sense of euphoria among people," Nassau, 61, said 
by telephone. "It seems like it doesn't matter as much as just taking 
part in this."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom