The Colorado Cannabis Saga Finally Hits Home

Teller’s First-ever Marijuana Dispensary to Open Next Week

Rick Langenberg

Cripple Creek is bustling these days with a slew of first-time business ventures as the town’s wagering gambling hand strikes unchartered territory.

It has become the first for an impressive Ice Castles attraction that has generated record traffic for this time of year and the first for a new $300 million casino hotel resort, regarded as one of the most grandiose new lodging projects in the entire Pikes Peak area (see related story). And starting next week, another first will occur with Cripple Creek and Teller County’s first marijuana retail dispensary.

High Stakes Leafery, located at 324 Hwy. 67 South, (the site of the former Pearl’s Place Day Spa, a block off the main drag) is slated to open on Jan. 8.

The  new dispensary is being pursued by Laura and Robert Smith, who received the town’s first official cannabis permit last August.  They are both familiar faces in the community, running and operating several local businesses, such as Cripple Creek Automotive Tire and Towing, Smitty’s Use Car and Truck Sales, and of course, Pearl’s Place Day Spa.

The new cannabis owners teamed up with Paul Richardson, who sports years of experience in the industry, working mostly as a commercial grower. Richardson, who will serve as the dispensary’s general manager, also has strong ties to the region and lives in Teller County.

The High Stakes Leafery team see their venture as big win for the community, local residents and visitors.

“We plan to do it (operate the dispensary) with class and safety. We really want this to be a benefit for the community,” said Laura Smith.  She said the dispensary owners wanted to come up with a gaming theme, with their High Stakes Leafery name.

The dispensary is equipped to sell a whole range of recreational and medicinal marijuana products to a variety of age groups, from those in their early 20s to those over 70. “We want to service all age groups and lifestyles,” said the owners.  However, based on the regulations established by the city, their business can’t offer any marijuana growing or club activity.

Richardson said they plan to keep their prices extremely competitive and comparable to other Colorado towns offering retail marijuana. They also want to work with local customers, including first-time buyers. The dispensary manager cities education as a prime goal. “I think a lot of the negative stigma (with marijuana) is going away,” said Richardson, who also spent time working with the Emerald Fields shop in Manitou Springs. He mentions much more product consistency since recreational marijuana was legalized about 10 years ago, especially with edibles.

A Prime Location and Perfect Timing

And as the saying goes, some business ventures evolve from great timing and a prime location. That could be the case with High Stakes Leafery. “This is really the perfect location,” said Laura Smith. In addition, she said their facility is in excellent condition, and didn’t require that much remodeling. The main changes from converting the beauty salon into a cannabis shop really hinged on security.

If someone wants to build a marijuana shop from scratch, the High Stakes operators estimated that the total price tag would now exceed $2 million.

Laura Smith also credits the support of several key civic leaders, such as Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Brown. Brown and other elected leaders sought to lower the fees and taxes from what was first considered by the city, following a six-month moratorium.  The council last summer decided to make the fees more in line with what was charged in other towns to make the new industry more competitive with such cities as Manitou Springs. Manitou was the first town in the Pikes Peak area that sought to legalize retail marijuana in their community, under certain guidelines and limits.

The High Stakes Leafery operators see Teller residents as their main market, along with area gamblers, visitors and locals.

The main impetus for the Smiths’ cannabis venture started in Nov. 2022, when local voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot question that opened the door for retail marijuana in Cripple Creek on a limited basis. In addition, voters said yes to the associated tax revenue for the new industry.

In essence, Cripple Creek became the first town in Teller County to say “yes” to retail pot.

When the pro-marijuana vote occurred, Cripple Creek city officials then called a time-out and declared a moratorium. During this time, officials spent a considerable amount of money and time, researching other communities of similarsizes  to Cripple Creek, that okayed retail pot, such as Leadville, Alma, Central City, Nederland and Manitou Springs.

“It was a learning experience for everyone involved,” admitted Laura Smith.

For the High Stakes Leafery owners, the timing was ideal, as they sold their Cripple Creek auto business in early 2023. “We saw this as a good opportunity for us,” said Robert Smith.

But along the way, they admitted they encountered a barrage of rules and a hefty amount of proposed fees that often had their heads shaking.  Robert Smith estimated that until the council opted to reduce the taxes and fees, a marijuana entrepreneur in Cripple Creek would have to pay close to $30,000 in fees and taxes, just to enter the cannabis business ballpark.

Still, the business opportunity is well worth the gamble, according to the High Stakes Leafery team. Laura Smith believes the community can easily support one marijuana dispensary.  Smith said that she and Robert have prided themselves in being the owner/operator of a business need in town that isn’t being served, whether it’s automotive service, a hair salon, or now, a reefer store.

Moreover, the marijuana dispensary operators aren’t concerned about the publicized decline of the marijuana industry in Colorado. “The demand has not decreased. It really comes down to the market being over-saturated in certain areas,” said Richardson. He believes the market is ripe for local marijuana sales. When the shop opens, it will offer flower smokable cannabis, edibles, salves, tinctures, concentrate and various products covering the full spectrum of retail and medical marijuana.

In frequent surveys, the one question visitors frequently ask is: “Where can I buy marijuana?”

The new facility certainly won’t disappoint locals and cannabis customers, as some will remember the look of the former Pearl’s Day Spa, voted by TMJ readers as one of the best hair salons in the Teller County area. The attractive facility features a spacious sales room, a check-in area and heavily secured entrance and exit sections, and variety of rooms manned by the employees.

Altogether, Laura Smith says the new operation will employ about eight people, including both she and Robert. The hours of operation are Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Friday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. For more information, call 719-689-5653.