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Medical Marijuana clinic opens in Durango

Durangoans now have a sixth source for medicinal marijuana, located in downtown, and operating under a slightly different business model.

“I’m a farmer. My angle is the agricultural one,” said Kai Hill, a former vegetable grower and co-owner of Durango Wellness, which he opened in Suite 105 of the Crossroads Building with his wife three weeks ago. “This is an amazing opportunity for the American farmer.”

Though he doesn’t grow marijuana, Hill said the going rate is about $2 million for a ton. By way of comparison, he mentioned hay, which sells for less than $100 per ton.

“It’s a no-brainer,” he said. “It’s just a much better cash crop.”

Hill says Durango Wellness has an answer to the conventional “warehouse-style” supply route common to dispensaries across Colorado. He sells strains farmed by local patients, for a commission, calling the model a patient-to-patient collective.

Fifteen locals had grown the product Hill had on hand Thursday, including strains of with slang names such as “Sweet Island Skunk,” “Afghani Goo” and “Urkle.”

Under state law, medicinal marijuana patients can grow up to six plants for personal use. Dispensaries will often step in as providers and maintain the plants for the patient. Most owners won’t say where the plants are grown.

Hill thinks his model serves patients better by allowing him to offer lower prices. He said he tries to match those found on the street.

Grams are $15.

“People are price shoppers,” he said, and if they want to, they can patronize weed dealers. “They’re well within their rights to do so.”

For its distinctions, Durango Wellness is similar to other dispensaries in many respects. The store is divided into three sections: storefront, waiting area and medicine room. The medicinal marijuana is weighed and stored behind a steel door and deadbolt lock, as per the city’s ordinance, a framed copy of which was sitting several inches away from half-filled Mason jars in the medicine room.

Hill’s is the first local business to get a license since the city passed a dispensary ordinance last October, though all the others are expected to be in compliance with the law.

Among other conditions, the city of Durango requires all dispensaries to maintain security cameras and operate only between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Owners are prohibited from using the words “marijuana” or “cannabis” on exterior signage, as well as “any other word, phrase or symbol commonly understood to refer to marijuana.”

Joe Keck, director of the Small Business Development Center at Fort Lewis College, said no dispensary owners had developed business plans with the center’s help.

Hill is the first tenant to occupy Suite 105. The office suite had been vacant since construction on the Crossroads Building wrapped up three years ago.

Phil Bryson, co-owner of Crossroads, said having Durango Wellness in the building hasn’t presented any problems.

“They’re a well-run company, and they’re really more about wellness than they are just dispensing medical marijuana,” he said.

Bryson said Durango Wellness works closely with others in the building, including a masseuse and an acupuncturist.

“I’m not sure if we would support it if it was a pure dispensary, but they’re pretty integrated with other folks in the building,” he said.

Hill says he and his wife, Sarah, are hoping to expand to carry fresh produce from local farms. They’ve applied for a food handler’s license and expect to be approved sometime next month.

The artwork of Stanton Englehart decorates the waiting area and medicine room, and this month, paintings by Bob Zahner that hang in the storefront area are for sale.

Hill keeps a 10 percent commission from selling artwork. But he said he was uncomfortable divulging the cut he takes from medicinal marijuana sales.

Brochures in the lobby list “pain freedom” fourth in an order of five wellness priorities, after “nutrition,” “fitness” and “sleep.” Hill said that’s because medicine – marijuana included – often is abused, prescribed needlessly or treated as a magical cure-all.

“Our focus is on wellness. We are not a dispensary,” he said.

By Garrett Andrews