Call it a green rush.
The momentous wave of marijuana acceptance as medicine, ultimately being seen as less harmful than alcohol or, in general, as a less harmful drug, has inspired both marijuana aficionados and the business-savvy to rapidly enter the Colorado market. To the aspiring ganja-preneurs, the opportunity to build a business in a fundamentally new market (recreational, especially) with an already massive user base seems like a no brainer.
The marijuana moguls and companies who owns the most dispensaries in Colorado embody the familiar professionalism and profile of business tycoons. They grow, they acquire and any cumbersome regulation or widespread competition are met strategic positions and innovation. To some degree, a nuanced and invigorating liberty is generated by the novelty of cannabis legalization — embolden, yet cautious, rebellious and pragmatic. But before we get more into who these budding marijuana juggernauts are, let’s check out what information the Department of Revenue reports on cannabis licensees and permit holders and how it affects the data available.
Information Bottleneck & Who owns what?
Currently, Colorado has issued 1,587 medical licenses and 1,353 recreational. This includes stores or patient centers, cultivation facilities, testing labs, and manufacturing sites. While nearly 3,000 marijuana-related licenses seems like a lot of places to pick up your buds or be employed, the Denver Post reports that the State Department of Revenue is reluctant to fully disclose the details of marijuana business owners, limiting the details on who owns the most Colorado dispensaries to who owns the most licenses.
Since Colorado law has yet to uniformly address licensing limits, competition has remained high in most places, allowing for a (possibly) more equitable chance of success all around, save for the costs of taxes and regulatory oversight. It’s not uncommon to hear of consolidation as a result. The fact that individuals are not limited to a number of marijuana licenses or permits they can hold makes it additionally laborsome to distinguish — through the DOR website — the value of the licenses, specifically the stake in a company the applicant holds. If someone has their name attached to a bunch of licenses but ultimately hold little ownership in the company, then attributing their name to who owns the most dispensaries in Colorado would seem misleading, but also completely accurate.
Given that the information regarding licenses and their owners are both sparse and cumbersome, I’ve decided to focus on the Denver area, where nearly 1/2 of all marijuana licenses active in the state reside.
With this in mind, I present to you the leaders of marijuana licenses in the 5280 — the ten names that control nearly 1/5th of Denver licenses.
Joseph Max Cohen
Joseph Max Cohen operates 21 active licenses in the Denver area. The brand under his helm Mr. Cohen is most known for is the Clinic, an award-winning string of dispensaries that even cross state lines. The Clinic boasts five Denver area locations. Cohen is a founding member of the Marijuana Industry Group, a group of industry professionals that aim to promote the responsible induction of cannabis into the greater economy and culture. The Clinic supports the Colorado LGBT community and has raised $300,000 since 2010 for the Colorado chapter of the National MS Society.
Shawn Phillips is the sole owner of 22 licenses in the Denver area. The Ridge, The Sanctuary, and The Grove are all businesses with strings leading to this Colorado cannabis titan. A low profile in his personal life, Phillips has built brands that, in the scheme of who owns the most dispensaries in Colorado, are able to seamlessly cater to different communities, demographics, and even in different ways to meet the expansive needs and inquiries of patients and customers across the Denver Area.
Anthony Sauro, Christian Johnson, and Matthew Aiken
The trio of owners orchestrates the active operation of 27 licenses. Their most significant claim to the Colorado cannabis industry, Sweet Leaf Marijuana Center, operates in almost every region of the metro Denver area and continues to grow. Not only do they have locations out of the state, but they have been industry-nominated for everything from it’s budtenders to its branding. In 2017, the Cannabis Business Executive rolled out their annual list of the top 200 retailers and producers by gross sales, where Sweet Leaf was rated the 5th in the US.
A world experiencing various hues of economic meltdown plagued the late 2000s. After facing bankruptcy his real estate empire, Frinzel pivoted to the marijuana industry, wanting to never be tied to market forces again. In 2010, he opened Heartland Pharmacy. A few years later, the address that once housed the Heartland is now inhabited by another of Frinzel’s brainchildren: Lightshade Labs, which boasts six locations across the Denver area. Frinzel is similarly entrenched in Buddy Boy Brands, which has seven locations in and around Denver, and PotCo, a buy-in-bulk retailer. Frinzel currently holds 32 licenses total, not to mention his management & consulting firm, Mjardin.
John Lord, a New Zealander by birth, has catapulted from purveyor of baby products to the sole owner of 43 licenses for various businesses in the Denver area, including a Colorado staple: LivWell. Lord’s transition into the cannabis industry was largely an act of circumstance. He had been renting a warehouse in his possession to a group who decided to grow weed in it. The group favored the regulatory environment elsewhere, and Lord was left with a nursery full of plants. In a moment of entrepreneurial spirit, Lord’s segue into the cannabis market, fueled by the rare liberty of literally finding a completely new industry, lead to the beginning of a rapid-growth brand in the highly competitive world of Colorado marijuana.
A visit to any of the LivWell stores exposes the customer-driven focus, high-quality buds, great deals, and a clean, comfortable environment. The staff provides you with keen insight into any of the products you are curious about, including some of the other brands that Lord helms, such as Infusiam, Flavored Essentials, and even the celebrity-endorsed brand “Leafs by Snoop”.
Rhett Jordan, Josh Ginsberg, and Peter Knobel
Business success stories are a continual construct n the emerging legal marijuana industry; however, a Vail real estate developer and ex-telecommunic, a computer science and economic major drawn to Wall Street and a fundraising, philanthropic marketer have cumulatively obtained 59 licenses in the Denver area. If you look outside the Denver area, the brand the trio is most known for — Native Roots Dispensary — has eleven locations other locations, ramping the number of licenses active around the state to totals that can’t be estimated with the information provided by the DOR.
At any rate, the success Native Roots enjoys isn’t unsurprising. Not only are the buds high quality, the prices are excellent. An eighth of their always frosty cannabinoid nuggets sale for as low as $20 dollars (medical) or $25 (recreational). Check out their menu here.
Peter Knobel, the ex-telecom executive turned Vail real estate developer diversified his interests, entering into the marijuana industry and eventually receiving a â..." stake in the ownership of Native Roots.
Josh Ginsberg and Rhett Jordan had been friends for several years prior their mutual & cumulative success in the cannabis industry. After they had each opened up their first dispensary (The Dandelion in Boulder for Ginsberg, and Native Roots in Denver for Jordan), the pair set sights on Colorado mountain towns. Rhett’s parent Rollie Jordan was a well-known real estate agent in Colorado and, by a stroke of serendipity, happened to know Peter Knobel.
The resultant canna-empire consumes over 50 licenses in the area and employs over 600 people across the state.
As the flow of information is, to some degree, diminished under the information available for free on the Colorado Department of Revenue, deciphering who owns the most Colorado dispensaries comes down to who has the most licenses attached to their names. Unfortunately, the license is associated with a company, which is licensed to operate a cultivation or manufacturing center or medical and retail dispensaries, and the information about how much of what company owns which dispensary or, furthermore, an applicant’s stake in the company that runs the dispensary — well, you can see that it gets cumbersome.
This also doesn’t mean it is inaccurate. Every single person on this list has grown a business in less than ten years to include multiple locations, sometimes crossing state lines. As an example, Mjardin, Frinzel’s management and consulting firm, has clients in seven states and operates 14 locations under three brands in the Denver area alone. While Denver city council ruled mid-2016 on a temporary freeze of licensure to new dispensaries, the pressure to acquire is bolstered in the Mile High city, and only time will tell how big these dispensaries will grow.