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Restaurants are awesome, but they have several drawbacks. When you visit a restaurant, you have to wait a while to get your food, have interactions with multiple humans, and leave a tip on top of the price of your order. For all of these reasons and more, the fast food drive-through was invented. It sped up the process of eating out for consumers and streamlined the business model for restaurants.

The cannabis industry is about to witness a similar step in retail innovation, as a small Colorado town is about to introduce the state’s first drive-through marijuana dispensary. Tumbleweed Express will open its doors — and drive-thru window — next month in Parachute, Colorado, a tiny town on the Northwest side of the Colorado River.

Many Parachute residents were apprehensive about the cannabis industry coming to town at first, but after repealing their ban on the businesses back in 2015, the results have been astounding. In 2016, almost one-third of the town’s sales tax revenue was from legal marijuana sales. The marijuana industry has not only kept the town afloat financially the last couple of years but actually improved traffic for other businesses along the main drag in Parachute.

At a recent Chamber of Commerce meeting, Parachute Town Manager Stuart McArthur explained that after the demand for natural gas production waned, the town was in need of a new revenue stream. Last year, marijuana tax revenue accounted for $310,000 of the $1.05 Million that Parachute took in.

“The really good news is that other businesses are benefiting from it,” McArthur added when explaining how the dispensary has helped the bottom line of neighboring businesses like restaurants and stores. When customers get off Interstate 70 in Parachute to stop at a dispensary, they may also decide to eat and shop in Parachute while they’re stopped.

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Courtesy of Alex Zorn

“In December 2016, $25,016 of the town’s $93,320 tax receipt figure, or 26.8 percent of the town’s sale tax for the month, was from the sale of recreational marijuana,” McArthur detailed in a previous memo to the Parachute Board of Trustees demonstrating how the canna-business would spread the wealth. “The percentage is down from previous months, indicating that other sales tax is increasing as a percentage of the total.”

On Thursday of last week, the board green-lit the drive-through dispensary in the form of an annual business license renewal for Tumbleweed’s parent company, Green Cross Colorado LLC.

“We think the drive-through is a very creative and innovative idea,” McArthur said of the approval.

Before Tumbleweed Express could start planning their grand opening, they still needed approval from the state’s Marijuana Enforcement Division.

Other dispensaries around the country have attempted to add drive-through capabilities but have been unsuccessful, mainly due to the open-air logistics of a drive-through flying in the face of existing retail marijuana laws around the country. One Oregon dispensary, in particular, was set to open their drive-through on 4/20 last year but was shut down before they ever had the chance. However, Tumbleweed Express has some unique features that should help them avoid a similar fate.

Robert Goulding, the Marijuana Enforcement Division’s Spokesman, pointed out three specific guidelines that could stand in the way of a potential drive-through dispensary opening in Colorado. Luckily for Tumbleweed Express, they will set up shop in a former car wash, which offers the unique ability to have a drive-through lane that is still shielded from public view. This factor was instrumental in Tumbleweed Express garnering an approval from the town of Parachute and the Marijuana Enforcement Division.

  • Nobody under the age of 21 is allowed into a Colorado dispensary, which for Tumbleweed Express will mean that no minors are allowed to be present in the vehicle during a transaction.
  • In Colorado, there are strict requirements regarding security and surveillance at the point of sale within a cannabis shop. Because this transaction will now occur outside of the building, the company will have to install custom security at the drive-through window.
  • Colorado marijuana laws dictate that no cannabis may be visible from the outside of the licensed dispensary. The car wash lane that Tumbleweed Express plans to use for its drive-through will allow employees to securely and discreetly service customers without them ever having to leave their vehicles.

While we are still a little while away from the landmark opening of what appears to be the first drive-through dispensary in Colorado, it’s difficult to imagine this idea not spreading like wildfire. Car wash operators in legal marijuana states everywhere may even start to question whether or not they’re in the right business.

One lingering question remains, though. Are we one step closer to the first combination fast food and marijuana dispensary drive-through?