Thursday, November 14, 2013

Pot grows to be the next microbreweries?

DENVER-- I was on assignment to explain how Colorado is preparing to implement taxes on the legal sale of recreational marijuana when I found my way to a business called "Medicine Man" in Denver.

The medical pot company plans to sell the drug for both medical and recreational use beginning January 1.

Andy Williams
"We'll be open at 8 a.m.," beamed owner Andy Williams, sounding like any other good salesman plugging deals on a big shopping day.

As he continued to tell me that he anticipated a line down the street for the first day of recreational pot sales, I got to thinking of how different it felt to report on marijuana than it did just a couple of years ago.



The front of Medicine Man still smacks of the underground culture at the roots of the marijuana industry.

Located in a warehouse complex among dingy industrial buildings, the front door opens into a drab grey lobby, where we were greeted by a receptionist behind a secure window.

The retail counter
You have to wait to be buzzed in to the retail area and warehouse.

The setting aside, it was the attitudes I found most surprising. I remember being allowed to shoot video inside of medical marijuana grows only on the condition that we not disclose the name of the business or the location, for fear of drawing unwanted attention from federal law enforcement.

Fast forward past a statewide vote to legalize the drug and a DOJ position letter allowing Colorado to go ahead, and people in the pot business feel emboldened enough to break out the "come on down" pitch.

But we saw more than that on our trip.

In the back of Medicine Man, we watched crews rolling white paint on to a huge warehouse floor.
Workers prepare a new warehouse space for growing pot
Williams says the white paint is meant to enhance the visual presentation of the new grow area he's building, which will be complete with a glass-encased observation deck, allowing visitors to tour the facility without entering the secure area.

The vision sounded loosely like the sort of tours given by craft breweries all over the state. The large-scale expansion itself also reminded me of local breweries, most of which are always working on an expansion plan to meet demand.


If you ask Williams about this comparison to the brewery business, you'll get an emphatic "yes."

He believes the pot business is heading for a boom-- more than 40 people now work for him and he anticipates hiring 20 more after legalization takes effect.

Marijuana buds hang to dry before packaging
He wants the people on the retail side to be ready to take questions from a new kind of customer.

Medical marijuana cardholders tend to know what they want. A middle-aged tourist from California looking to relive the experience of getting high from his college days just might have more questions before buying some pot.

As a guy in the trenches, Williams thinks the experts are lowballing their estimates of how much pot business Colorado is in for.

If he's right, he'll be sitting pretty. Medical pot businesses get a 2-year window of exclusivity to sell recreational pot in Denver.

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