STATE LEGISLATURES MAGAZINE | march 2015
He began growing marijuana in his basement, and now his stores make 200 to 300 sales a day.
Tim Cullen is CEO and founder of the Colorado Harvest Company and Evergreen Apothecary, an expanding business in Denver that grows and sells marijuana. His most lucrative store averages 200 to 300 sales a day, with roughly 80 percent being for recreational purposes. The former high school biology teacher became interested in marijuana when he saw how it helped his father control the pain and nausea of Crohn’s Disease, which Cullen himself developed later. He began growing marijuana in his basement in Colorado, where growing medical marijuana for personal use has been legal for 12 years. He now grows his plants in 55,000 square feet in four warehouses.
State Legislatures: Why do you think Colorado voters were the first to legalize recreational marijuana?
Cullen: People were ready for it. They wanted cannabis to be legal. Seventy years of anti-marijuana propaganda was just lost on people who have more experience with it. Before Amendment 64, we [medical marijuana growers] thought we were just tolerated by the community. But it passed by a larger margin than President Obama won the state. We stuck our head out of the store door and said, “Wow, the community actually is OK with us being here. They want us in business, which was really a good feeling.”
State Legislatures: Which state laws have had the biggest impact on your business?
Cullen: House Bill 1284, without a question. It laid the groundwork for all the rules we play by today. It provided funding, through licensing, for the development of the Marijuana Enforcement Division, thereby allowing licensing to happen, vetting owners, disqualifying anyone tied to organized crime, setting up rules about where stores could operate and deciding which jurisdictions have final say over what. It cleaned everything up. Among many things, the law requires us to account for every plant we grow, so now we have a good internal tracking system. Each plant has a radio frequency tag with a unique imprint to our store. When the state inspector comes in, he simply takes his scanner gun, points and shoots, and he’s done. The bill isn’t perfect—it’s gone through all sorts of revisions, but at least it’s a starting point.
State Legislatures: What more needs to be done?
Cullen: Some social issues could have used more thought. For example, if you smoke cannabis on your patio, and the smoke drifts into your neighbor’s yard, are you intruding on his freedom? What is private versus public consumption and where do you draw the line? With 20 percent to 25 percent of our sales going to people from out of state, more consideration should have been given to where those people are allowed to consume. With no cannabis clubs, they’re almost forced into some kind of public setting, like a park, which Denver has outlawed. If they go to the mountains, they have to be careful not to be on national forest land, which is subject to federal laws, which say possession is illegal. Can they smoke in a hotel, if it’s a smoking-allowed room? These questions have created real conflict in Colorado.
State Legislatures: You complain labeling and packaging requirements are stricter for marijuana than for alcohol and tobacco. How so?
Cullen: Every jar of cannabis has to have a label listing everything that’s been added to the soil or sprayed on that plant, and be in child-resistant containers. Also, you have be 21 to walk into my store. I agree with these laws, they give Colorado citizens a level of comfort that marijuana is going to be marketed as an adult product, sold only to adults, correctly labeled and packaged, to prevent it from getting it into the hands of minors. Alcohol and tobacco should be regulated at least at the same level. There is no question alcohol is more dangerous. The social damage caused by alcohol—increased domestic violence and driving accidents—is not even comparable to cannabis. Alcohol should absolutely be sold in child-proof containers. And people shouldn’t be allowed to drag a 6-year-old through a liquor store.
State Legislatures: How sophisticated are consumers about marijuana?
Cullen: Many aren’t. Today’s cannabis is a more potent product than the pot people remember from college. Today it’s made into concentrates. A store might have two dozen strains, which have different effects on individuals. That’s why we think an education campaign is so important. No one buys a bottle of Jim Beam and thinks they should consume it all in one sitting. The same is true of concentrated cannabis products.
State Legislatures: What advice would you give other states?
Cullen: Legalization entails a huge amount of resources and infrastructure: licensing approval, vetting, law enforcement, regulatory bodies. It required a big investment before sales taxes could be collected, but my stores generated more than $1.4 million in city and sales tax in 2014. It seems like each state is reinventing the wheel when it comes to marijuana legislation. But I think Colorado has a pretty good model—one that could be adopted anywhere in the world.
Mary Winter was assistant editor of State Legislatures magazine.