Pubdate: Mon, 30 Dec 2013
Source: News-Item, The (PA)
Section: page  1
Copyright: 2013 The News Item
Author: Kristen Wyatt, Associated Press


DENVER (AP) - A gleaming white Apple store of weed is how Andy
Williams sees his new Denver marijuana dispensary.

Two floors of pot-growing rooms will have windows showing the shopping
public how the mind altering plant is grown. Shoppers will be able to
peruse drying marijuana buds and see pot trimmers at work separating
the valuable flowers from the less-prized stems and leaves.

"It's going to be all white and beautiful," the 45-year-old
ex-industrial engineer explains, excitedly gesturing around what just
a few weeks ago was an empty warehouse space that will eventually
house 40,000 square feet of cannabis strains.

As Colorado prepares to be the first state in the nation to allow
recreational pot sales, opening Jan. 1, hopeful retailers like
Williams are investing their fortunes into the legal recreational pot
world- all for a chance to build even bigger ones in a fledgling
industry that faces an uncertain future.

Officials in Colorado and Washington, the other state where
recreational pot goes on sale in mid-2014, as well as activists,
policymakers and governments from around the U.S. and across the world
will not be the only ones watching the experiment unfold.

So too will the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which for nowis not
fighting to shut down the industries.

"We are building an impressive showcase for the world, to show them
this is an industry," Williams says, as the scent of marijuana
competes with the smell of sawdust and wet paint in the cavernous
store where he hopes to sell pot just like a bottle of wine.

Will it be a showcase for a safe, regulated pot industry that
generates hundreds of millions of dollars each year and saves money on
locking up drug criminals, or one that will prove, once and for all,
that the federal government has been right to ban pot since 1937?

Cannabis was grown legally in the U.S. for centuries, even by George
Washington. After Prohibition's end in the 1930s, federal authorities
turned their sights on pot. The 1936 propaganda film "Reefer Madness"
warned the public about a plant capable of turning people into
mindless criminals.

Over the years, pot activists and state governments managed to chip
away at the ban, their first big victory coming in 1996 when
California allowed medical marijuana. Today, 19 other states,
including Colorado and Washington, and the District of Columbia have
similar laws.

Those in the business were nervous, fearing that federal agents would
raid their shops.

"It was scary," recalls Williams, who along with his brother borrowed
some $630,000 from parents and relatives to open Medicine Man in 2009.
"I literally had dreams multiple times a week where I was in prison
and couldn't see my wife or my child. Lot of sleepless nights."

That same year, the Justice Department told federal prosecutors they
should not focus investigative resources on patients and caregivers
complying with state medical marijuana laws-but the department
reserved the right to step in if there was abuse.

In Colorado, the industry took off. Shops advertised on billboards and
radio. Pot growing warehouses along Interstate 70 in Denver grew so
big that motorists started calling one stretch the "Green Zone" for
its frequent skunky odor of pot.

The city at one point had more marijuana dispensaries than Starbucks
coffee shops, with some neighborhoods crowded with dispensary
sign-wavers and banners offering free joints for new customers. Local
officials have since ratcheted back such in-your-face ads.

But the marijuana movement didn't stop. Voters in Colorado and
Washington approved recreational pot in 2012, sold in part on spending
less to lock up drug criminals and the potential for new tax dollars
to fund state programs.

The votes raised new questions about whether the federal government
would sue to block laws flouting federal drug law. Colorado Gov. John
Hickenlooper famously warned residents not to "break out the Cheetos
or Goldfish too quickly," and activists predicated a legal showdown.

That didn't happen. In August, the DOJ said it wouldn't sue so long as
the states met an eight-point standard that includes keeping pot out
of other states and away from children, criminal cartels and federal

Colorado law allows adults 21 and older to buy pot at state-sanctioned
pot retail stores, and state regulations forbid businesses from
advertising in places where children are likely see their pitches.

Only existing medical dispensaries were allowed to apply for licenses,
an effort to prevent another proliferation of pot shops. Only a few
dozen shops statewide are expected to be open for recreational sales
on New Year's Day.

Legal pot's potential has spawned businesses beyond retail shops.
Marijuana-testing companies have popped up, checking regulated weed
for potency and screening for harmful molds. Gardening courses charge
hundreds to show people how to grow weed at home.

Tourism companies take curious tourists to glassblowing shops where
elaborate smoking pipes are made. One has clients willing to spend up
to $10,000 for a week in a luxury ski resort and a private concierge
to show them the state's pot industry.

Dixie Elixirs & Edibles, maker of pot-infused foods and drinks, is
making new labels for the recreational market and expanding production
on everything from crispy rice treats to fruit lozenges.

"The genie is out of the bottle," says company president Tripp Keber.
"I think it's going to be an exciting time over the next 24 to 48 months."

It's easy to see why the industry is attracting so many people. A
Colorado State University study estimates the state will ring up $606
million in sales next year, and the market will grow from 105,000
medical pot users to 643,000 adult users overnight- and that's not
counting tourists.

Toni Fox, owner of 3D Cannabis Center in Denver, anticipates shoppers
camping overnight to await her first-day 8 a.m. opening. She's
thinking of using airport-security-line-style ropes to corral
shoppers, and suspects she's going to run out of pot.

A longtime marijuana legalization advocate, she knows it's a crucial
moment for the movement.

"We have to show that this can work," she says. "It has

The challenges, activists and regulators say, are daunting in Colorado
and Washington.

One of the biggest questions is whether they have built an industry
that will not only drawin tens of millions of dollars in revenue but
also make a significant dent in the illegal market. Another is whether
the regulatory system is up to the task of controlling a drug that's
never been regulated.

There are public health and law enforcement concerns, including
whether wide availability of a drug with a generations-old stigma of
ruining lives will lead to more underage drug use, more cases of
driving while high and more crime.

As state officials watch for signs of trouble, they will also have to
make sure they don't run afoul of the DOJ's conditions.

To stop the drug from getting smuggled out of state, regulators in
both states are using a radio-frequency surveillance system developed
to track pot from the greenhouses to the stores and have set low
purchasing limits for non-residents.

Officials concede that there's little they can do to prevent marijuana
from ending up in suitcases on the next flight out. The sheriff in the
Colorado county where Aspen is located has suggested placing an
"amnesty box" at the city's small airport to encourage visitors to
drop off their extra bud.

To prevent the criminal element from getting a foothold, regulators
have enacted residency requirements for business owners, banned
out-of-state investment and run background checks on every applicant
for a license to sell or grow the plant.

Whether the systems are enough is anyone's guess.

For now, all the focus is on 2014. This being Colorado, there will be
more than a few joints lit up on New Year's Eve. Pot fans plan to don
1920s-era attire for a "Prohibition Is Over!" party and take turns
using concentrated pot inside the "dab bus."

Williams says he's done everything he can, including hiring seven
additional staffers to handle customers. All he has to do is open the
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