Colorado’s Green Rush: Medical Marijuana

December 15, 2009 – Denver, Colorado — Driving down Broadway, it’s easy to forget you are in the UnitedPicture 7 States. Amid the antique stores, bars and fast-food joints occupying nearly every block are some of Denver’s newest businesses: medical marijuana dispensaries.

The locals call this thoroughfare “Broadsterdam.” As in Amsterdam, Netherlands, these businesses openly advertise their wares, often with signs depicting large green marijuana leaves. “The American capitalist system is working,” said attorney and medical marijuana advocate Rob Corry.

It’s a matter of supply and demand. “The demand has always been there,” he said, “and the demand is growing daily because more doctors are willing to do this, and now businesses, entrepreneurs, mom-and-pop shops are cropping up to create a supply.”

Colorado voters legalized medical marijuana in 2000. For years, patients could get small amounts from “caregivers,” the term for growers and dispensers who could each supply only five patients. In 2007, a court lifted that limit and business boomed.

Between 2000 and 2008, the state issued about 2,000 medical marijuana cards to patients. That number has grown to more than 60,000 in the last year. State Sen. Chris Romer, a Democrat whose south Denver district includes Broadsterdam, said the state receives more than 900 applications a day. “It’s growing so fast, it’s like the old Wild West,” Romer said. “This reminds me of 1899 in Cripple Creek, Colorado, when somebody struck gold. Every 49er in the country is making it for Denver to open a medical marijuana dispensary.”

They’re calling it the Green Rush
Corry, who has represented defendants in medical marijuana cases for years, is taking a different role: He has formed the Colorado Wellness Association, a trade group representing medical marijuana growers and providers.

“We want to be the Better Business Bureau of marijuana,” he said. On the 28th floor of a downtown building with a great view of the Rocky Mountains, Corry’s office is adorned with vintage posters. One reads “Marihuana: Assassin of Youth!”

In the corner sits a plastic 6-foot marijuana plant. It’s a prop from the TV show “Weeds,” about a suburbanite mother who begins selling marijuana to make extra cash, Corry said.

The lagging economy has created an opening for medical marijuana, Corry said. As governments struggle for new sources of revenue, the prospect of taxing medical marijuana can be enticing.

The dispensaries are “paying taxes, hiring employees, renting out space, purchasing supplies and moving this economy along,” he said. “Local governments need to get on the bandwagon and start realizing this is a major source of revenue and it can help us cure our bankrupt governments.”

The association aims to get a larger supply of marijuana into the dispensaries and make sure it is safe, Corry said. “What we’re looking at is quality control,” he said. “We have the technology to make sure there’s no harmful toxins, pesticides.”

Bob Winnicki is a 35-year-old analyst and co-owner of Full Spectrum Laboratories, which the wellness association uses for testing. “We’re trying to get away from smelling, texture, color” as a measure of quality cannabis, he said, adding that he prefers “hard analytical data.” Wearing a dress shirt and tie under a white lab coat, Winnicki opens envelopes with samples of marijuana dropped off by growers and dispensers. He puts the marijuana into test tubes and mixes it with a solution to create a greenish liquid. The test tube goes into a machine that performs a chemical analysis.

The active ingredient in marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. But Winnicki said it’s other, less understood components that may provide much of the claimed medicinal benefits. Winnicki is not a marijuana user, he said. In July, he took a break from medical school to start the lab because he loves “the science” behind medical marijuana and thinks the market is wide open, he said.

“There’s a lot of money to be had in it, and there’s a lot of jobs and growth that can come out of it,” he said.
Across the city, entrepreneurs are trying to get in on the Green Rush. In a northwest Denver neighborhood, Aaron Randle is tending to his new shop, Sunnyside Alternative Medicine. He opened in September and said he has about 100 customers so far. By Jim Spellman. Source.

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