Rocky Mountain Remedies became the first legal marijuana retail store in Steamboat Springs, on Jan. 8, following a state-wide sales kickoff Jan. 1. Co-owner Kevin Fisher, 37, ran the business as a medicinal pot dispensary prior to receiving approval from the state and city council to sell recreationally to adults 21 and older.
He recently sat down with The Globe and Mail to discuss the months of preparation and investment involved, the reaction the revamped store has received, and coming changes to the competitive landscape. The interview has been edited and condensed.
Q: Start by telling me a bit about yourself: Your background and how you got into this line of work.
A: We opened this business about four-and-a-half years ago. My business partner and I, Ryan Fisher (no relation), had been working together at Steamboat in food and beverage, but we were trying to do some other business together. We both come from educated backgrounds, but had determined at some point that we wanted to keep living in Steamboat. I didn’t want to go back to law school and live in a city. But at the same time I didn’t want to pull beers for the rest of my life.
We saw a change coming in Colorado: a few (medical) dispensaries were popping up but at the time there was no regulatory framework like we have now. They were operating just under the caregiver model. As the CDPHE (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) was vague on whether a caregiver could be an entity that solely provides cannabis for a patient or has to also do breakfasts and things like that, it was still kind of grey for us. In August, 2009, CDPHE made a ruling that providing cannabis for a patient was enough to be a caregiver, and it allowed for the development of a medical marijuana model.
That’s the entrepreneurial side. I’m not trying to draw sympathy, but there’s a personal aspect as well.
My mom battled cancer off and on for 13 years and she passed away when I was 22, pretty young. My father was in the service and all of my family on both sides were military, police chiefs, things like that. Throughout her therapies, which were pretty cutting edge – bone marrow transplants when people didn’t really have them, for example – she wouldn’t touch cannabis. And as I got older and I kind of knew what cannabis might be able to do for her, I started pressuring her a little bit more.
She said ‘no, it’s illegal, how do I know what’s in there,’ meanwhile she walked around with a morphine pump. In the last year, it was the wasting that got to her. I wasn’t thinking cannabis was going to cure her cancer but it might help her eat a meal, and she just wouldn’t touch it.
I had seen friends who had melanoma and the old adage that pot gives you the munchies is true, it stimulates your appetite. So there was an aspect to it of ‘hey, if we can do this and we can do it right, and we can provide a safe environment with clean medicines that are tested, then maybe people like my mom, who might have otherwise not thought to use cannabis, would.’
Q: Were you the first medical marijuana dispensary in Steamboat?
A: Yes. We got in ahead of a moratorium. Two other entities caught a whiff of what we were doing, and went and filed paperwork over at planning, and the next day city council placed a moratorium. So we were the only game in town for a little bit, but it wasn’t too long after that D&C and then Natural Choice opened as a co-op shortly thereafter.
Q: What types of inspections did you have to pass before you were licenced under the new law?
A: I also sit as the chair of the marijuana industry group, so I’ve spent a lot of time over the past two or three years helping to craft a lot of the rules and regulations that we have here. We believe strongly, and I think it’s starting to show on the national and international level, that here in Colorado, unlike California, we want a strong, centralized regulated system. It’s shown people that this isn’t a bogeyman, we can do this safely and effectively . ...