A conversation with Cannabis Business Office’s Tristan Watkins

Program Manager Tristan Watkins on how the CBO is working to make Colorado cannabis more socially equitable

Courtesy of Tristan Watkins

Courtesy of Tristan Watkins

Grayson Acri, Cannabis Reporter

Cannabis is an exploding industry in Colorado. Last year, the cannabis market reached over $2.2 billion in sales — that’s more than triple its starting market in 2014. There’s plenty of breakneck-speed growth, and now the Cannabis Business Office is working to try to ensure that everyone in Colorado is able to take their piece of the market. 

The CBO was established as part of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade back in March 2021. The office provides entrepreneurial training and will soon provide financial assistance to “THC-touching companies” founded by social equity licenses, according to the CBO website.


That’s a license given to cannabis entrepreneurs who are below a certain income level, lived in a “disproportionate impacted area” or have been directly impacted by cannabis prohibition enforcement. The online entrepreneur training started Feb. 2, and the applications for loans will begin Mar. 9. 

We asked CBO Program Manager Tristan Watkins some questions about what his office is hoping to achieve and the future of equitable cannabis. The transcript has been edited for clarity.

In your own words, what is the goal of the Cannabis Business Office?

“Broadly speaking, our driving goal is to provide more equitable access to the cannabis industry. We can do this in a variety of ways by offering access to capital and access to technical assistance. That technical assistance really helps provide a foundation of expertise for groups to really succeed in the industry.”

So what does success look like? When have we reached the “equity” point?

“It’s really hard to find that type of success because we’re looking so far out into the future, I think, until everybody would agree that true equity has been achieved. For us right now, the way we’re measuring success is the number of grants and, in the future, of loans that we can provide to social equity licensees. This is their potential first-time access to capital. They can actually get their business going and begin participating in this industry.”

Do you have any idea how many applications you’re expecting?

“The last time I checked, we saw 60-70 groups who were awarded their social equity license. We imagine that, at a 100% application rate of those individuals that have a social equity license, 60-70 applications should be coming in. Granted, there’s plenty of time for more individuals to be awarded that license so that they could still potentially apply to this round of the grant.”

What role do you see cannabis playing in the societal or economic future of at least the state of Colorado? 

“That one’s outside of my domain to speak in any specifics to. What we do know is that the Colorado cannabis industry is a massively booming industry. Colorado continues to be the industry leader for the nation when it comes to cannabis. The taxes that are generated and where they go obviously further benefits Colorado and its residents, even if those residents are not participating in the Colorado cannabis industry. So as it continues to grow, as long as it grows with a more community-oriented mindset, I can see it dramatically benefiting Colorado communities throughout the state.”

How do you believe this program is impacting Colorado’s economic competitiveness in the cannabis space?

“Just a few days ago, Eaze, a very large delivery company that was founded in California, grew in California, … published a very interesting report showing that, at least in California, consumer trends have shifted towards a focus on companies with some social equity component. … It does feel like consumers, especially the younger generation consumers, are voting with their wallets. So by encouraging these same or similar ideals in Colorado, at the very least it might help entice the growth of newer companies, especially those that are social equity based.”

Is there anything you would like to add?

“I do think it’s really important to acknowledge that we developed this technical assistance program in the view that it’s an opportunity for our social equity licensees to really develop their skill sets and make them more competitive for the grant process and for when their business has actually been opened. We’ve created our content around this idea: that it should be helping develop these entrepreneurs, their skills and their expertise.”

Reach Grayson Acri at cannabis@collegian.com or on Twitter @Guy1376.