A Denver-based marijuana entrepreneur wants to start a specialized farmers market for pot in Boulder, but the proposal could face significant legal and political hurdles.
Justin Hartfield, CEO of weedmaps.com and managing partner of Ghost Group, a marijuana venture capital group, sees the potential for a new venture offering vendors better access to consumers and consumers a higher level of choice.
He said the Boulder Farmers' Market is a model for similar institutions around the country, and an organic cannabis farmers market would build on that tradition.
"It would be the perfect place to have a proposal go through," he said.
Right now, Hartfield said he's trying to get a sense of how Boulder politicians and planning officials would view such a proposal.
City and state officials, as well as industry observers, said state and local law would make it difficult to move forward with a farmers market.
Daria Serna, a spokeswoman for the Department of Revenue, which oversees marijuana regulation, said state law defines premises in such a way that licensing a farmers market would be challenging. However, she couldn't respond more concretely without a specific proposal.
"We're going to get a lot of different proposals about what retail marijuana might look like, and we can't say this is possible or that is possible without a specific proposal," she said.
Boulder attorney Jeff Gard, who represents many marijuana businesses, was blunt.
"There's not going to be a farmers market," he said. "You're not going to be able to buy weed off the street. That's drug dealing. They've made a very clear distinction (in state law)."
David Driskell, Boulder's executive director of community planning, said city zoning doesn't allow any commercial activity on agricultural land, except for sales of produce grown on that land.
"It's not even allowed for food, let alone for recreational marijuana," he said of a farmers market in an agricultural zone.
Now, most marijuana is grown in industrial zones and indoors.
However, if the supporters of the idea make a formal proposal, it could become part of the discussion as the city develops its retail marijuana regulations.
Driskell said he believes Boulder would have the authority to allow such use -- if the City Council wants it.
"It's an interesting idea, but we haven't even started looking at retail sales regulations," he said.
That discussion is expected to pick up later this fall.
Boulder Mayor Matt Appelbuam said he doesn't want to rule anything out, but it's hard for him to imagine a farmers market working.
All the marijuana regulations to date are aimed at confining sale of the drug to secure, closed premises. That those rules were put in place also reflects certain political and philosophical preferences about how marijuana be sold.
But Shawn Coleman, a consultant who works with the marijuana industry, said the interest in this and other proposals that fall outside the current legal regime show that public sentiment is shifting.
"I think such initiatives are a sign that there is some impatience in the public for the access to safe, regulated marijuana," he said. "This proposal as well as proposals for on-site consumption facilities are ideas that have merit and have been brought by earnest people seeking to have Amendment 64 realized in a way that truly removes the negative stigma of marijuana and treat it like any other consumer product, and I applaud them for that.
"I think these concepts will need for the public at large and lawmakers at the state and local level to catch up to the wisdom of the voters before they can come into effect."