Vail’s largest commercial developer. An owner of a car-detail shop. A former nonprofit event planner. A businessman who made a fortune in child car seats. A one-time Subway franchisee bankrupted by real estate losses.
These entrepreneurs — Peter Knobel, Joshua Ginsberg, Rhett Jordan, John Lord and John Fritzel — have emerged atop Denver’s marijuana industry just two years after the first recreational joint was sold.
In all, they hold 134 marijuana business licenses in Denver — about 13 percent of the total.
An analysis of marijuana license data in Denver, which accounts for about 44 percent of licenses statewide, reveals for the first time who is behind the pot industry and how the market ownership has evolved since January 2014.
The Denver Post identified the biggest players as those holding the most licenses as of April 15 in Denver — because comparable statewide information is difficult to obtain. The Post found that 10 people control nearly 20 percent of Denver’s 1,046 active medical and recreational licenses.
They have cornered the top of the city’s pot market largely by acquiring smaller grows, shops, dispensaries and infused product makers.
“We’re not trying to be the biggest,” said Ginsberg, a partner in the Native Roots chain, which holds 59 licenses in Denver. “We’d simply like to be the best.”
But the numbers tell a story of a consolidating industry, as big operators buy small ones struggling to keep up with more government regulations, tax rules and other pressures.
“I don’t believe there is any room in the future of retail cannabis for small independent shops such as mine,” said Toni Savage Fox, one of the first medical pot businesses to move into retail sales. “Not for much longer, anyway.”
With no limit to the number of licenses any one person or company can control, and new city-set caps recently approved to limit store and grow-facility locations, the city’s marijuana trade looks ripe for the big players to dominate even more.
Although several people stood out as likely candidates to be atop the recreational industry when sales began — those who already held medical marijuana licenses and were the only ones allowed to obtain recreational ones — that has happened only in part.
Among the top 10 owners, just three led the list of medical marijuana business owners in the state in 2013 before recreational weed became legal here.
Of the top five, only Lord was a factor in the medical marijuana sector when retail sales began. Today he sits atop its leaders with 14 retail licenses. He still holds the oldest marijuana license issued by the city, in 2010.
About $330 million of medical marijuana was sold in Colorado in 2013, and that grew to $408 million in 2015. But the real growth has been in retail sales, which exploded from zero in 2013 to $588 million last year, bringing the total marijuana market to just under $1 billion, state figures show.
Of the city’s licenses, about two-thirds are medical and one-third are recreational. One of the reasons there remain so many more licenses for medical marijuana compared with recreational is that medical operations generally are smaller.
Among Native Roots’ Denver licenses, 50 are medical and nine are recreational. Knobel is the controlling partner with 50 percent. Ginsberg and Jordan each hold a quarter, city license records show. Native Roots has operations in Denver, Aspen and Edwards.
Lord is sole owner of the LivWell business that holds 43 licenses in Denver and has operations in Colorado Springs, Trinidad, Garden City and the state’s southwest corner.