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DACONO — It’s been nearly five years since Brad Henson first opened a medical marijuana dispensary in Dacono, and about a year and a half since it went up in smoke.
Now, Henson’s on-again-off-again relationship with the City of Dacono is poised to be on again as Henson’s business partner, Karen Nab, prepares to reopen Dacono Meds in the coming weeks.
And while the pain of the rebuilding process has been palpable — financially for Henson and Nab, and physically for some of the more than 1,800 patients Dacono Meds once served — Nab said in an email interview June 8 that the healing is almost ready to begin again.
Up in smoke
Henson set up shop in Dacono in October 2009 following an “extensive search to find a community that would allow him to open a dispensary,” and after receiving the blessing of the Dacono mayor and city council. That search, Nab said, included Brighton, Fort Lupton, Greeley, Fort Morgan, Hudson, Sterling, Brush, Wiggins, Keenesburg and Roggen, where he “received no after no.”
Henson said he received mostly positive feedback from customers and the community at large when he first opened the dispensary at 730 Glen Creighton Dr., and said he attempted to build on those positive endorsements by donating proceeds from his business to community charity events and organizations.
Those proceeds — which Henson emphasized in a phone interview June 5 were not sales taxes but out-of-pocket donations equivalent to 2 percent of gross sales — were earmarked for and given to community Christmas organizations, food banks or, according to Nab, big community events such as the Carbon Valley Music Festival.
“But those donations were stopped because we were shut down,” Henson said.
In two separate readings in June and May of 2012 — just months before Colorado voters would approve Amendment 64’s legalization of recreational marijuana — Dacono’s then-city council voted 4-2 to enact a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries, citing the liability created by opposing viewpoints of MMJ enforcement between state and federal government.
After council voted to approve the ban, Henson clamored to get a petition to overturn it on the November 2012 ballot, but narrowly missed the deadline. The petition was ultimately filed in time to prompt a February 2013 special election — where Dacono voters approved lifting the ban. But by that time Henson had been forced to destroy his inventory and close shop Dec. 31, 2012.
“We had to destroy our entire crop, grind it up and mix it with dirt, which had to be videotaped for verification,” Nab said. “All medical products not sold that final day were also destroyed.
“It was devastating emotionally, but nothing compared to the financial loss,” she added.
Henson later relocated his business to Sedgwick, a small town with less than 200 people situated in the northeast corner of the state along the Nebraska border.
“Brad had been pursuing alternative sites when it looked as if we might get banned in Dacono … and he opened for business in Sedgwick in May 2013,” Nab said. “We had a good number of patients that had been traveling to us in Dacono from Sterling, Yuma, Wray, Julesburg, Haxtun and Fleming. We shortened their drive considerably.”
Nab said rebuilding Dacono Meds has been challenging, both financially and in terms of time invested.
She said the “new” process started shortly after Dacono city council rescinded its ban in May 2013. On May 14, Nab said she received the new application to apply, but found the application had grown from a one-page form with nominal fees to a 21-page document with more than $3,000 in surcharges.
“With the loss of everything in Dacono, and the start-up for Sedgwick, there wasn’t any money to move forward,” Nab said.
After going back to an initial investor to seek funding, Henson and Nab presented a new application to Dacono City Clerk Valerie Taylor in August. In September, the pair received a “conditional letter of approval” from Dacono, but found they were far from in the clear.
Nab said, though they had already submitted their application with the state, the forms had to be revised and renewed due to the time lapse between their original application submission and the ensuing approval from Dacono. What’s more, Nab said the state began getting flooded by recreational marijuana license applications (which were on deadline for Jan. 1, 2014), and that, along with requests for more information regarding the Sedgwick location, caused further delays in the Dacono rebuild.
After receiving final clearance for the Sedgwick shop Jan. 30, Nab met with the state and paid more than $15,000 in licensing fees only to find the letter of approval from Dacono failed to include an Optional Premise Cultivation (OPC), required for all medical dispensaries in Colorado. Less than a week later, Nab said they received a letter informing them that the letter of approval had expired.
“We would have to reapply and pay all of the previous fees plus an additional $2,500 cost-agreement fee,” Nab said.
Nab said, after more applications were filed and more than $6,000 in fees paid in February and March, they received state approval on March 23 and new licenses for the dispensary and OPC April 7.
“Since then, as money would allow it, time has been spent reinstalling everything that was removed and taken to Sedgwick, fixing some damage that occurred after we were closed in 2012, and replacing all of the equipment necessary to run the center,” Nab said. “In the meantime, we also applied for a dual license for medical and (recreational) in Sedgwick.”
Nab said June 9 they are awaiting inspection on the site and, once complete, “will then begin the process of acquiring products for sale and be open for business.”
However, Nab said they won’t be open long at the Creighton Drive location.
“We are only allowed to stay at our current location through the end of 2014, and then we have to move to a different zoned area on the west side of Colorado Boulevard,” she said.
Not “just” a
Just like some officials of Dacono, Nab — formerly an educator — was not a firm believer in medical marijuana.
“I was totally against (Brad’s) pursuit. I believed marijuana had no medicinal value and it was just a way to ‘legally’ get the product to get high,” Nab said of her notions when Henson first asked her to work for Dacono Meds in December 2009. “Brad talked about the patients he was serving and how it was helping them with a variety of ailments … (but) I had to see to believe.”
Nab said she went to help Henson on Saturday — her day off from teaching — when she had a change of heart.
“I was surprised to see that the patients coming in weren’t what I expected at all,” she added. “The media helps paint the picture of a medical marijuana patient as a stereotypical ‘stoner,’ and what I saw were folks, mostly over 40 and going through chemo, dialysis or in severe pain, who were trying to find an alternative to pharmaceuticals whose side effects were worse than their ailment.
“I received my education and enlightenment sitting at the front desk and talking to the patients and seeing the improvements in their health and well being,” she added. “After helping each weekend (through March 2010), I was convinced of the medicinal value in marijuana and was ready for a change (of careers).”
Nab said the patients who benefit from Dacono Meds are what most compelled her and Henson to persevere.
“The patients we’ve built relationships with are waiting for our return,” Nab said. “We’re anxious to catch up with what’s been going on in their lives since we parted.
“People think of marijuana centers like a drug store, where you’re just a number on a prescription waiting to be filled,” she added. “But our interaction with our patients is much more involved.”
Nab said she and Henson know the community at large welcomes their work. After all, they won the vote.
“I can count on one hand the number of people who instigated and were the driving force behind the ban,” Nab said. “That small handful was not representing what the community wanted. Why wouldn’t we work this hard when the community itself voted to bring us back?”
Nab said the shop’s popularity is also evident by the dozens upon dozens of phone calls she’s been getting, even now, prior to the shop opening, as well as the word on the street.
“I receive more than 30 calls a week from different individuals asking when we will reopen. When I’m out in the community, I’ve been approached by people I don’t even know and asked the same,” Nab said. “Many have expressed their dislike of marijuana, but have an even greater disapproval of how we were shut down, and they are supportive of our return.”
Nab said she knows Dacono Meds has lost some patients to new clinics, or to the new, easier-access recreational market, but she said she believes in their cause and knows there are still those who will come to the shop for much-needed treatment. Nab said she expects “tears and hugs” when they finally do reopen.
“With being so invested in their health regimen, we became very close,” Nab said. “A lot are just like an extended family member. Unfortunately, I’ve learned of quite a few deaths since we closed.
“We never got to say good-bye, and that hurts, but we have to keep going and providing for the others,” she added. “I hope to see a lot of old, familiar faces, but am also excited to meet new patients just starting their journey using medical marijuana.”
Nab said it will also take some time to rebuild their philanthropic relationship with Dacono.
“We still believe in giving back, but we have a lot of finances to recoup before we will be able to have any available to donate,” Nab said. “We’re basically starting over from nothing. It takes time to rebuild.”
Contact Staff Writer Jeremy Johnson at 303-659-2522, ext. 217, or firstname.lastname@example.org.