These canna-business owners will bring THC coffee, Mexican sweets and more to Denver.
Finding a physical location to open a cannabis business in Denver is challenging. Ask local Sarah Woodson and she’ll tell you it’s among the biggest barriers to entry for new entrepreneurs.
Woodson would know. In addition to opening Denver’s first legal marijuana tour bus company, The Cannabis Experience, she’s the founder of The Color of Cannabis, an organization that advocates for BIPOC representation in the industry. One of the pillars of her work is a 10-week course that supports social equity business applicants — people of color and other marginalized groups that were disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs — and helps them bring their ideas to life.
Last year, while scouting potential brick-and-mortar locations with one of her class graduates, Woodson found a creative solution to one of the challenges facing cannabis entrepreneurs: A 10,000-square-foot warehouse in Montbello where multiple product manufacturers could share the space and, importantly, the rent.
“What’s so nice about this facility is it was built out for a larger multi-state [edibles manufacturer], so they really put a lot of money and effort into it,” Woodson said. “The property was fully licensed already in the city so we knew it would work.”
Now, four new businesses are preparing to start cooking edibles and making concentrates under their one shared roof. It’s not a place that customers can visit or buy anything, though marijuana enthusiasts can expect to see these products in dispensaries by late this year or early 2024.
The Color of Cannabis also relocated its headquarters there, and two additional spaces are still available for rent.
This opportunity makes starting a new business more affordable than it otherwise would be, said Riccardo Russell, co-owner and lab manager at Monstera Melts, which makes concentrates.
“I’d have to work four jobs to really make it happen any other way. It’s my little hobby and now I can take my dream to market,” he said. “It’s really cool.”
Desiree Duran, CEO of La Vida Dulce edibles, echoed that sentiment. “If it wasn’t for [Sarah], I don’t know if we’d be doing this,” she said. “We can’t shell out $10,000 for a building. The way it’s structured, we’re able to share the cost of the building.”
Woodson hopes this model can be recreated throughout Colorado to empower more social equity licensees to get into this industry. Social equity, as defined by Colorado statue, includes individuals whose income is less than 50% of the state median or who have a cannabis-related conviction in their record or a family member’s record.
Though Denver has made new cannabis business licenses available exclusively to social equity applicants until 2027, the financial burdens associated with securing locations and licensure still keep many from cashing in.
“Economics make a huge difference and the way I’ve always been able to tap into that is through business ownership,” Woodson said. “It’s really part of my calling is to help others to help establish economic freedom.”
Here’s what’s to come from social equity collaborators C’est La Vie Coffee, La Vida Dulce, Monstera Melts and Strain 16. Most of these businesses are in the process of getting licensed and anticipate selling their products by late this year or early 2024.
C’est La Vie Coffee
Nicholas Goodwin knows the therapeutic benefits of cannabis firsthand. In 2016, the Colorado Springs resident was involved in a car accident that left him injured and in need of multiple back surgeries — and with a subsequent opioid addiction.
A year later, Goodwin kicked his dependence on opioids with the help of THC and CBD, which he’d also seen provide relief to his family members battling cancer. That’s when Goodwin decided to venture into the cannabis space in hopes of helping others like him.
“My first passion was coffee, and I was like, how can I marry the two together?” Goodwin said.
The answer is C’est La Vie Coffee, a forthcoming line of cannabis-infused coffee that offers two buzzes from one brew. Goodwin started experimenting with recipes about seven years ago and developed a proprietary emulsification process to create single-origin and bean blends he plans to sell in coffee pods, similar to K-Cups.
Goodwin chose that format because it provides more accurate dosing for consumers.
“They’re all microdosed to exact specifications of 10 milligrams, or I can do it down 5 milligrams or I can do a 1-to-1 (THC to CBD ratio). I can go all the way up to 25 milligrams,” Goodwin said. “So I can pinpoint my dosage in K-Cups carefully and precisely.”
Plus, it makes sense with more people working from home post-pandemic, he added. Eventually, he plans to expand offerings to include infused teas and one day even a hospitality lounge where guests can imbibe his products onsite.
La Vida Dulce
La Vida Dulce means “the sweet life” in Spanish, and the company’s name is a harbinger of what’s to come from the panaderia-inspired edibles manufacturer.
Cousins Desiree Duran, CEO, and Christina Villagomez, COO, are self-described new cannabis converts who realized the substance’s medicinal potential after using it to deal with pain. In Duran’s case, it also helped her relinquish her dependence on opioids.
After trying to start a marijuana delivery service in 2021, the duo pivoted to baking edibles with help from their partners, Dijonn Duran and Chris Marquez, who had more experience with marijuana.
They plan to differentiate themselves from other edibles on the market by embracing their Hispanic heritage. Villagomez serves as the head baker, making delicacies like champurradas, spiced hot chocolate cookies, and biscochito, a shortbread cookie, as well as Mexican candies infused with THC.
Growing up, marijuana was a taboo subject in her household, Desiree Duran said. Through La Vida Dulce, she hopes to inspire the Hispanic community and add representation to the industry.
“We don’t really have a presence in this industry, especially women,” she said. “We definitely want to make an impact, we want to open the gates for more people to come and let them know you can do this.”
Upon moving to Colorado in 2012, Riccardo Russell worked for several cannabis companies in a variety of roles, including trimming. But his passion lies in extraction and making concentrates.
Russell’s manufacturing skills will be on display when his company Monstera Melts debuts with products such as water or bubble hash, live rosin, budder and sugar wax.
Monstera Melts specializes in solventless extraction, meaning Russell does not use additives like butane to extract oils and trichomes from the marijuana plant. Instead, he uses cold filtered water and ice to separate the plant matter from the good stuff he uses to craft concentrates. That method offers a “natural vibe” that appeals to customers and maintains the flavor profile of individual strains, Russell said.
While many solventless extracts are currently available on the market, Russell aims to differentiate his with the quality to suit connoisseurs cannabis consumers — something he says other concentrates lack.
“We’re going to be more of a small-batch company. We’ll have limited drops at a few dispensaries, but we’re hoping it will be hype enough to sell out immediately,” much like limited-release beers used to excite connoisseur drinkers, Russell said.
Monstera Melts — named for another of Russell’s favorite plants — hopes to expand into edibles and other products in the future, he said.
Jamana Jamison’s foray into cannabis edibles began with a cancer diagnosis. In 2014, her sister, Jamiece, was diagnosed with breast cancer and commenced a treatment regimen that included chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and a variety of medications to mitigate the symptoms.
Medical marijuana was available in Illinois where the Jamison sisters lived, but Jamiece didn’t want to smoke it in a leased apartment. So Jamana began infusing it into condiments like butter and jam that could accompany her sister’s meals.
That parlayed into Jamana hosting infused dinners for family and friends. One night, she developed beverages that wowed guests, including her brother Chrisean, who became her biggest cannabis cheerleader.
Strain 16’s specialty is flavored lemonade made using fresh fruit juices and a nanoemulsion process that infuses them with THC. When the line debuts it will include three recipes — strawberry lemonade, mango lemonade, and pineapple lemonade — sold in 12-ounce vessels, each with 30 to 50 milligrams of THC. Jamison also plans to sell 4-ounce “pocket shots” with 10 milligrams of THC.
The drinks are both approachable and delicious — two things Jamison believes separate hers from others on the market. While they’ll first be available in dispensaries, she hopes to make them available in hospitality lounges for people who want an alternative to combustible weed products.
Jamison’s sister has been in remission for six years, however, her brother unexpectedly passed away in 2022. Jamison considered quitting the business altogether after that, but decided to push forward “to keep his memory going,” she said.
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