Legal marijuana may lead to booming business in Colo.
Of all the states that have legalized the growing and selling of medical marijuana, none has more at stake than Colorado, where a thriving industry has created jobs and revenue. / CBS News
The National Marijuana Business Conference began on Thursday in Denver, taking advantage of the new legal status of pot in the state.
The convention, which ends on Friday, is set up like other industry meetings to help business owners discuss how to expand their companies and further their economic growth. Denver is the only place the convention will be held in 2012.
Colorado's Amendment 64 legalizes recreational marijuana use
Colorado governor on marijuana legalization
Colo. marijuana legalization caught between federal and state law
"We wanted something for business owners from around the country so they could come and work on industry issues and learn from each other," Medical Marijuana Business Daily spokesman Chris Walsh said to CBS station KCNC in Denver.
According to KCNC, medical marijuana is a $1.7 billion a year industry, with the medical marijuana industry in Colorado alone estimated at $300 million. With recreation marijuana entering the market, businesses could be poised to expand much more. The Colorado Center on Law and Policy estimates that the law could bring in about $60 million each year in combined tax revenues -- over $32 million for the state budget, over $14 million for local governments and about $12 million in savings from less law enforcement used to patrol marijuana users.
"People are starting to accept marijuana in general and medical marijuana and it's going to be hard to put the genie back in the bottle. It's going to be impossible. It's too big now," Walsh said.
Under Amendment 64, people over 21 can legally posses up to an ounce of recreational marijuana in Colorado and grow six plants in a closed facility, three of which can be flowering at once. The one ounce rule applies to anything a person has on them outside their facility, so technically they can have whatever they buy plus whatever they can grow. A similar measure was passed in Washington state as well.
Use in public is still illegal, and rules for medical marijuana remain unchanged. If someone was previously convicted of marijuana possession, the conviction will remain.
While regulatory rules to allow businesses to sell recreational marijuana should be set up by 2013, the first marijuana stores won't open until at least January 2014 according to USA Today.
The federal government could still step in with an injunction, delaying the dates even further. Since federal law states that pot is illegal, officials could step in and prosecute people possessing cannabis. But, Richard Collins, a University of Colorado law professor, told The Coloradoan that it's unlikely because federal officials don't have the manpower to go after people with small amounts of pot.
"In practice, the feds never prosecute for one ounce, even though they can," Collins said. "The U.S. Attorney doesn't have the capacity to police small amounts of marijuana."
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Despite the expected boom, there is still many problems marijuana business owners are face including where to credit. Most traditional lending locations won't lend money for pot businesses.
"We're not able to go to the traditional lending sources and we started off with two employees and a modest 300 square foot facility. Now we have around 40 employees and a 27,000 square foot production facility," Dixie Elixers and Edibles spokesman Tripp Keber told KCNC.
Keber added that Dixie Elixers and Edibles is a publicly traded company, and they reached a market cap of just shy of $100 million on Wednesday.
In addition, it isn't easy to set up a marijuana business in Colorado, TIME pointed out. Companies are heavily monitored by the state, with the planting to harvesting stage monitored by video by the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division. Each worker must be licensed, and shipments are highly documented.
However, some say that the existing regulations will make it easier for the state to allow and monitor recreational marijuana growth.
"The thing that Colorado really has going for it is that there is already a high level of comfort and familiarity with the state licensing, taxing and regulating the above-ground distribution of marijuana," Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, told TIME.
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