By Jay Stooksberry
Delta Correspondent
DELTA-Imagine that your community voted to kick you out. Would you be willing to return to a place that was so un- welcoming? Most would say “no,” but for John Thomas, the answer was an unequivocal "yes."
A Budding Entrepreneur

Thomas, 40, is a husband and father of two. In addition to being a business owner, he is active in his community, regularly volunteering as a baseball coach for local youth leagues. If you didn’t know what Thomas did for a living, he would appear to be living a very normal life.

However, Thomas’ business is contro-
versial in rural Colorado: he’s a medical
marijuana dispensary owner. Thomas owns Green Meadows Dispensary, located in Colona, just ten miles south of Montrose’s city limits. Prior to his Colona-based business, Thomas owned Natural Green Solutions, a dispensary that—up until 2009—operated on Main Street in Delta.

Thomas’ decision to go into business by himself is a familiar tale for many western Colorado natives.

He grew up in Montrose, briefly attended college in Grand Junction, and then went to work in the coal mines in Somerset after he dropped out of school. Thomas quit his job at the mine, opting to work with his family's business instead. During this period, Thomas recalibrated how he wanted to earn a living.

“I never would have seen this coming when I was younger,” said Thomas.

Thomas decided that the best way to thrive in a tough marketplace like western Colorado was to enter into an untapped market. At that time, the demand for medical marijuana was still—pun intended—a budding industry.

“There’s something here,” Thomas said, after researching the viability of medical marijuana facility. “I thought it was something worth going after.”

Prior to Colorado’s statewide legalization of marijuana, the industry functioned in legally ambiguous limbo, where regulations were loosely defined at both the state and local levels. Thomas capitalized on this vacuum and established the first medical

marijuana business in Delta. Hard Times. Though he created a thriving business, Thomas’ venture was met with local opposition. Conservative attitudes toward cannabis placed Natural Green Solutions directly in the crosshairs concerned Delta residents.

“Demonization of this whole industry has existed for a while,” said Thomas. “I had neighbors who lashed out at me because of what I do, calling me a ‘drug dealer.’”

This consternation culminated with increased scrutiny from local government. In 2009, Delta’s city council adopted a six-month moratorium on medical marijuana businesses, directly followed by a 12-month extension of the ordinance. Without grandfathering Natural Green Solutions into the ordinance, the city effectively banned Thomas’ business from continuing operations within city limits.

Thomas didn’t take these actions lightly. In 2011, he began to circulate a petition to create a ballot measure that would reverse the city’s moratorium. Thomas gathered more than 1,300 signatures on his petition—well over the required 489 needed to get on the ballot. The council approved the petition and referred the ballot question to be voted on during a July 11th special election.

John Thomas with plants. For ten years, Thomas’ Colona-based dispensary has served the medical marijuana needs of patients.

“As I was going door
-to-door talking to
residents, everybody
seemed to support me and my business,”Thomas said.

“My wife has been a part of this story, too,” said Thomas. “She is a lot of the reason I am where I am today.”
Down But Not Out

Thomas couldn’t stay on the sidelines for long.

“There was some reflection time there,”said Thomas. “I said to myself, ‘get your- self back up, and start fighting again.’”

One year after being shut down in Delta, Thomas purchased an existing dispensary in Colona, and reopened as Green Mead- ows Dispensary. For ten years, Thomas’Colona-based dispensary has served the medical marijuana needs of patients all over western Colorado, including patients from Telluride and Grand Junction where medical marijuana stores exist. Green Meadows also hosts a care center program, where participating clients receive personalized treatment.

“If clients sign up for our care center services, we provide a discount,” said Thomas. “We develop a personal relationship with the patient and analyze what will work best for them.”

A Return to Delta

In 2018, Delta voters passed two ballot measures, approving the sale and cultivation of medical marijuana within city lim- its. These measures reversed the 2009 moratorium, and reopened Delta to the

Much to his surprise though, the referen- dum—Referred Measure A (2011)— passed by a wide margin, with 68 percent voting to keep the city’s moratorium in place.

Thomas’ hardships didn’t end there. Near the same time of the municipal elec- tion, the state of Colorado began to ramp up its own regulatory activities regarding marijuana grows. Then, the state set strict regulations on medical marijuana dispen- saries that were closely tied to their grow operations and patient counts. Without a store, Thomas lost his legal ability to grow. As a result, state regulators visited Thomas’ grow operations in Olathe—a four-acre site with a greenhouse and nearly 1,000 plants—and forcibly removed his plants.

“They came in with three SUVs, cut down all of my plants, filled up their trucks, and left,” said Thomas. “That would have been my first harvest to supply my Delta store.”

The financial distress and undue hardships caused by these events took their toll on Thomas’ health. To reduce stress in his life, Thomas turned to playing the role of—in his own words—“Mr. Mom,”choosing to stay at home and raise his children. His wife, Amanda, a registered nurse, served as the main breadwinner. Several contentious months of public hearings regarding the zoning, regulations, licensing, and taxation of medical marijuana followed the passing of the two measures.

Due to the lengthy public debate, it wasn’t until April 2, 2019—nearly six months after voters approved medical marijuana—that interested parties could officially apply for a license. Thomas didn’t hesitate to apply.

Though the preceding months were con- tentious, Thomas’ application was mini- mally contested.

“I was down there with my gloves on,

ready for a fight,” Thomas laughed. “I was shocked.”

Despite some objections from a neigh- boring property owner, who presented his grievances to the city’s planning commis- sion, Thomas breezed through the approval process. On June 17, 2019, Delta’s city council unanimously approved Thomas’ license and permit.

Though it may seem that he is exactly back where he started ten years ago, Thomas is optimistic about his situation.

“The mentality toward marijuana has changed, and to see that change in Delta is a breath of fresh air,” said Thomas.

Thomas’ Delta store will be divided into two sections. The front section will sell CBD products and be open to the general public. The back section, which can only be accessed with an official Colorado medical marijuana card, will sell an inventory that consists of edibles, concentrates, salves, patches, and creams.

Thomas plans to replicate his Colona business model by offering the same care center services.

Thomas’ application to the state of Colorado is still pending at this moment, but he still is planning on opening his store in Delta by mid-July to early August.

Jay Stooksberry is a Freelance Writer & Digital Marketing Consultant, www.jaystooksberry.com