Pubdate: Sun, 02 Feb 2014
Source: Dallas Morning News (TX)
Copyright: 2014 The Dallas Morning News, Inc.
Author: Marc Ramirez
Page: 1A


N. Texans Getting in on High-Flying Industry's Action

"Come on in the store. We've got everything you could want. We got
uppers, we got downers. We got laughers, we got screamers. We got
sodas, we got edibles. We got light chocolates, we got dark
chocolates. Whatever you want, we got it." - Sales spiel by
"bud-tender" A. J. Walsh at Denver marijuana dispensary MMJ America

DENVER - Here in America's Amsterdam, even locals are still getting
used to the idea that they can be open about purchases once made in

But with Colorado's legalization of recreational marijuana use and
regulated retail operations, cannabis business is smoking:
Dispensaries statewide have seen sales explode - Huffington Post
reported first-week sales of $5 million - dwarfing the medical
transactions legal since 2009.

Much of that interest has come from Texas - and North Texans in
particular, who've long invaded the Centennial State for skiing,
snowboarding and, in the days before it became widely available, even
Coors beer.

The law that took effect Jan. 1 has given Lone Star leisure-seekers
another reason to visit - and unleashed a booming new economy enticing
out-of-state entrepreneurs looking to cash in on the green rush.

They're tracing the footsteps of those who already have moved, or plan
to move, to Colorado for medical reasons.

"This is the new cash crop," said Lindsey Bartlett, a "bud-tender" at
downtown Denver dispensary MMJ America, one of more than 100 medical
marijuana dispensaries in Denver that applied to add retail sales
operations, according to the Denver Business Journal. "It's, like, the
new tourism."

Retail purchases are taxed at 25 percent, including a 15 percent
excise tax and a 10 percent sales tax.

And with state officials predicting almost $600 million in annual
sales, travel companies have arisen to offer excursions to
plant-growing facilities and arrange lodging at "smoker-friendly" hotels.

"We've had quite a few Texans come to Colorado to check out our new
freedoms," said Peter Johnson of Colorado Green Tours, a travel outfit
"serving cannabis enthusiasts from around the world."

Not that they necessarily want it known. At dispensary DANK Colorado,
a customer who'd driven in that day from Texas refused to give her
name, saying she'd called in sick to her job in Coppell.

And outside Mile High Cannabis near the Denver Broncos' home field, an
older couple who'd presented Texas IDs hurried away with their
purchase, refusing to talk to a reporter.

"He looked like somebody important," the doorman quipped.

At Northern Lights Natural Rx in nearby Edgewater, receptionist Ben
Davis said he had seen about 10 Texans the day before. The shop, in a
tidy strip plaza next to a Dunkin' Donuts, had a bright, salon-like
vibe in contrast to some other dispensaries, fronted by doormen with
more of a dive-bar feel.

Maps on Northern Lights' wall told the story in pushpins: So far, the
shop's out-of-state visitors had come mostly from Dallas, Austin,
Minneapolis, Chicago and the eastern seaboard.

A group came in one day from Corpus Christi. The day before that,
Houston. But patrons have come from beyond the U.S., too, from nations
like Latvia, Denmark, Greece and Burkina Faso.

"We had someone from Taiwan. She was very excited," Davis said. He
pointed at a spot on the map. "I was here when this guy from Salvador
[Brazil] came in."

Fancy names

Dallas chef David Anthony Temple was among a stream of customers
queued up to peruse the weedy wares of Northern Lights' back room.

Inside, buds lined shelves like mini-asteroids in glass crocks, each
strain labeled with its fanciful name: Space Dawg. Cannatonic.
Medicine Man. Chernobyl.

Strains are either cannabis sativa, cannabis indica or a hybrid.
Sativas are known for boosting energy and offering more of a head
buzz, while the relaxing indicas are more of a bedtime strain.

"One woman told me: 'I can't write without my sativas!' " said shop
coowner Eva Woolhiser.

Prices ranged from about $18.50 for a gram to nearly $260 for a

"What's all this stuff in the little jars?" Temple asked, eyeing the
packaged items behind the counter.

Bud-tender Amber Peters approached. "Those are gummies," she said -
among the shop's assortment of marijuana-laced edibles like peppermint
patties and dark chocolate truffles.

It was the edibles that intrigued Temple, in town to explore expansion
opportunities for the "underground dinners" he conducts in Dallas.

His meals often feature experimental ingredients like tree bark and
sauces enhanced with gin or absinthe.

When in Rome, he figured; so here he was. "This is like a cool side
attraction," he said. And possibly something to keep on his radar
should he start doing dinners in Colorado.

"If this keeps going as a trend, will this start affecting food?" the
30-year-old wondered. "Is that something I'm going to have to learn
how to do?"

An animated New Orleans native, Temple used to smoke weed when he was
younger and supports legalization. He doesn't use it anymore, he said,
finding that it sapped stamina he preferred to focus on his enterprise.

"I've had employees who smoke, and they'd show up stoned and late," he
said. "As an employer, it's like having them walk in after a couple of
shots. I was like, 'Go home.' "

Still, he thinks the drug, used responsibly, poses no more danger than
alcohol. "I'd feel safer if my employees went home after work and
smoked a bit than if they went out drinking," he said.

Peters let Temple examine some of the jarred buds with a pair of
tongs. "The Cheesecake is really cheesy," she said as he sniffed.

Another jar on the shelf piqued his interest. "Dairy Queen?" Temple

"That one's more for medical use, but if you'd like to take a look, I
can let you," Peters said. "It kind of smells like Dairy Queen when
you walk in there."

She opened another jar. "This is Grape Ape, one of my favorites,"
Peters said. "It's good for pain, or after a long day."

Temple finally decided on a $20 jar of peach/banana gummies, made from
a sativa-indica hybrid.

He reflected a clientele far beyond stereotypes. At dispensaries
around the Denver area, customers included clean-cut young
professionals, husky blue-collars in work boots and caps, culinary
students, middle-age suburbanites and professorial types with glasses
perched at nose's edge.

'What a thrill!'

At Northern Lights, a pair of retirement-age men exited, brown-bagged
buy in hand. "What a thrill!" one said, not ironically.

"People think this is just a bunch of druggies selling to their
buddies, and it's really not," said Griffin Lott, a former Travis
County (Texas) senior sheriff 's deputy.

Lott left law enforcement several years ago to get into Colorado's
cannabis industry. He now lives in suburban Golden and runs a secure
courier service, delivering money and product for a major dispensary

Banks are still unwilling to deal with businesses whose goods remain
illegal at the federal level, "so there's a lot of cash hanging
around," Lott said. "But mostly what I do is secure product storage
and delivery."

In the meantime, marijuana operations either hire similar courier
services or bank for as long as possible under nondescript names, he

While Texans are well represented in Colorado, he said, it's not such
an easy business to get into.

"A lot of people move here thinking marijuana's easy [to grow], but
they find out how hard it is," Lott said. "It's like being a farmer
and botanist and chemist rolled into one. It's not just watering
plants in a warehouse."

At Mile High Cannabis, shop manager Niko Yamaguchi had moved from
Denton two years ago to take a job in the industry's medical side.

"It's a great career choice," he said. "We're hoping that in five or
six years it will be legal around the country. And the revenue coming
in could really fix the economy."

Per law, all cannabis has to be consumed in private.

"You still have to hide it a little bit," Yamaguchi said. "Employers
still have policies. But cops can't come into your house and arrest

Outside the store on a pleasant Saturday morning, doorman Deshaun
Young jovially checked IDs, the familiar cannabis scent wafting from
within every time he let a new patron in.

"We've had lot of Texans," he said. "Whole carloads."

A few weeks earlier, his primary role was crowd control, but that had
evolved into something different. As with other dispensaries, the
atmosphere was markedly laid-back.

"I'd rather be here than on the unemployment line," Young

'This is the gold mine'

The dispensary boom had created new jobs, and that was just the start,
he said, with a hemp-rope production industry still to come.

A droopy guy with droopy pants approached. "Do I just go in?" he

Young scoffed. "Naw!" he said. "You can't just go in. You gotta show
me some ID."

"I don't know how this works," the guy said sheepishly. "I've been in
prison for five years."

"Well, welcome to the land of the living," Young said as he escorted
him in. "Let's get you to a happier place in life, bro."

Across town at DANK Colorado, Fort Worth's Dana Curtis accompanied
colleague Steve Quinn of Tennessee-based Ennesco, an investment firm
exploring industry opportunities.

"We understand this is an emerging market," Quinn said. "We work with
a lot of different businesses. Right now, this is the gold mine."

Others, like Lubbock's Colt and Amanda Smith, are among those planning
to move to the state to ride the new economy. The couple founded the
Lubbock chapter of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of
Marijuana Laws).

They had talked about retiring in Colorado but decided to act early
once the new law took effect.

"We have our house on the market right now," Colt Smith said. "It
makes sense to find exile in a place that has more reasonable laws
than to sit around and wait for Texas to get there."

The Smiths hope to launch a marijuana edibles business once they
establish residency.

"We feel like Colorado is just beautiful and has beautiful laws,"
Smith said. "When people tell me they're going there to ski now, they
use air quotes."
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MAP posted-by: Matt