Business name: Organic Alternatives
Location: Fort Collins, Colo., about 65 miles north of Denver
Number of stores: One
Date first store opened: January 2010
Type: Medical and recreational
Owner: Steve Ackerman
Manager: Maka Kala’i
Number of employees: 43
Square footage: 2,000 square feet
Most important lesson learned: “Certainly the most important thing in any dispensary business is compliance—compliance with all state and local regulations.”—Maka Kala’i, manager and director of sales and marketing for Organic Alternatives
It’s every dispensary owner’s nightmare: A local ballot measure passes, outlawing all cannabis businesses in the city.
That nightmare was once a reality for Organic Alternatives. In November 2011, voters in its home city of Fort Collins, Colo., passed a ban on all medical marijuana dispensaries. The measure shuttered some 20 dispensaries in the city, including Organic Alternatives.
“There’s certainly a lot of dispensaries and dispensary owners that did not weather that ban,” said Maka Kala’i, the dispensary’s manager and director of sales and marketing. The owners of those businesses had invested everything they had into their operations, only to see them shut down by localized prohibition. “People lost a lot,” he said.
But Organic Alternatives survived the ban, which voters repealed in November 2012. The four years since then have brought more changes and new challenges to the Fort Collins dispensary. However, Kala’i said he’s “absolutely” confident the business has fully recuperated from the ban that nearly closed it for good.
Organic Alternatives had been in business as a medical dispensary for nearly two years when voters approved the ban. According to The Denver Post, the ban was fueled by fears that the city’s dispensaries were contributing to increased drug use among young people.
“A lot of residents of Fort Collins were unhappy with the ban because it was done in an off-election year, and they don’t really show up to the polls like they do in a big election,” Kala’i said.
After the ban went into effect, local medical marijuana supporters went to work trying to repeal it. Among them was Kirk Scramstad, who approached Organic Alternatives’ owner Steve Ackerman and “told him that we need to fight this,” Kala’i said. Scramstad, who now serves as director of operations for Organic Alternatives, was working at a different dispensary at the time. After the ban was enacted, he launched a petition drive, gathering signatures to get a repeal measure on the ballot.
The work done by Scramstad and other industry advocates paid off in November 2012, when voters approved an ordinance that allowed medical marijuana businesses to operate in Fort Collins again.
Organic Alternatives not only survived a short-lived attempt to shutter its business; it also expanded. It re-opened its doors in July 2013, becoming the first dispensary to re-emerge from the ban. A year later, it was the first to launch recreational sales in the city, Kala’i said.
In addition, Organic Alternatives has its own cultivation and extraction operations, producing shatters and oils. Its production facilities are fully wind-powered and, as the name implies, the company uses organic methods to create its products, Kala’i said.
One of its main challenges now is keeping up with new regulations that govern labeling and packaging, he said. From his perspective, though, the company’s biggest achievement is the inroads it has built with the local community. Kala’i said that Organic Alternatives has sponsored several local nonprofits, including TEAM Wellness & Prevention (a Fort Collins agency designed to prevent alcohol and drug abuse) and ChildSafe (a nonprofit that helps victims of child sexual abuse in northern Colorado).
That nonprofits are willing to work with Organic Alternatives gives him assurance that the company is truly a part of the community. And that’s no small feat, “especially in a community that, at one point, banned dispensaries,” he said.
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