POLITICS
12/11/2013 06:10 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Pot Panic! Colorado Dispensary Owners Worry They Might Run Out Of Weed

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On January 1, adults ages 21 and over in Colorado will be able to legally purchase recreational marijuana for the first time in U.S. history. The anticipation for this moment has been years in the making -- and some are starting to worry that Colorado's dispensaries won't have enough weed to meet what will likely be an unusually high demand.

It's yet unclear just how many shops will open come the new year. But if the numbers in Denver are any indication, it may be less than expected. As few as five to ten Denver-area pot shops may be allowed to start selling recreational pot once the law goes into effect, despite more than 100 businesses waiting for approval from the city.

Will the relatively small fraction of shops be able to handle the glut of consumers eager to buy those first bags of legal greenery? Probably not.

“I’m going to run out of cannabis; it’s just a matter of when," said Toni Fox, owner of 3D Cannabis Center in Denver, to The Huffington Post. Fox expects her shop to be one of the few that does get to open on the first of the year.

Fox said that much of what will determine if and when she runs out of marijuana product will be due to the decision that the state's Marijuana Enforcement Division, the regulatory agency for Colorado's recreational marijuana industry, makes regarding just how much cannabis pot shops will be allowed to transfer over to the retail side of their business. Julie Postlethwait, a spokesperson for the agency, told HuffPost that MED is considering a few options, including allowing businesses to sell a flat percentage of medical marijuana as retail product over time or transferring a specific amount of medical cannabis over to retail in one fell swoop.

"Basically, with whatever the MED decision is, I think I’ll temporarily run out of marijuana product by the end of the weekend after New Years," Fox said.

Dispensaries have been preparing for the green rush for months. To help stock up on his supply of marijuana, Andy Williams, proprietor of Denver's Medicine Man, raised his prices months ago. Williams said he also made larger than normal purchases of marijuana alternatives, like edibles. He said he doesn't think he'll run out due to the preparations he's made, but he does believe some other shops will.

"Quite honestly, I do believe there is going to be a shortage of marijuana in the short term in Colorado," Williams said. "Everyone is expanding that can, but it takes some time for that to come online. It will be a little while before the supply and demand level out. I think after the first month, people may start seeing stores with less of a selection and maybe a couple of them will run out.”

Mason Tvert, communications director for Marijuana Policy Project, told HuffPost that regardless of the possibility of shortage, the extreme interest in a new product should not be surprising to anyone.

"A line of people waiting to buy the first legal marijuana will be no different than a line of people waiting in line to buy the first new iPhone," Tvert said. "If not everyone is able to make a purchase on that first day, so be it. They will surely still have the opportunity to get it."

Just how much interest both Colorado residents and tourists will have in buying recreational pot once the law goes into effect remains to be seen. Justin Hartfield, CEO of dispensary finding website WeedMaps.com, said that while he believed dispensaries were well-prepared for residents, tourism was an unforeseen factor.

“On one hand I could see things playing out like lines out the door, a two-and-half hour wait just to get to the counter," he said. "Or I could see people thinking that there’s enough weed in their state that they don’t feel the need to fly to Colorado."

Fox said she thought her business would see a 50/50 split between in-state and out-of-state shoppers. In order to prepare against a possible shortage, she plans to pursue purchasing limits, especially on Colorado's resident marijuana consumers. “As an industry, I think a lot of us will put initial purchase limits on some of the in-state folks," she said.

Erin Phillips, president of Strainwise, a company which owns several dispensaries in Colorado, told HuffPost she was not worried about a shortage. "We believe we have enough product to supply our current customer base in addition to our projected tourism traffic," she said.

But Medical Marijuana Industry Group Executive Director Michael Elliot believes shortages will be inevitable. "We had hoped that more businesses would get licensed by January 1, and we are concerned about how this industry can safely meet demand with so few businesses scheduled to open," he said. "We don’t want people to be disappointed, but the few businesses opening on January 1 may have a tough time meeting the new demand."

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