Medical pot: Will Colorado's "green rush" last?

Denver, Colo., has more medical marijuana dispensaries than Starbucks, but the budding business defies federal laws

Steve Kroft: What's your business plan?

Tripp Keber: So our plan-- you know, and I'm--

Steve Kroft: Long-term and short-term.

Tripp Keber: Sure, the long-term plan for this business for Dixie Elixirs and Edibles as I've never been really shy to share is ultimately to sell it. I truly believe that whether it's Big Alcohol, Big Tobacco or Big Pharma, a company like one of those is going to look very, very closely at medical cannabis. It's about a two billion dollar market in 2012, growing to just under nine billion dollars in 2016. So you're seeing hockey stick growth. And I think companies like Dixie are well-positioned to be acquired as the industry develops.

It's a risky proposition. The industry requires a big capital investment and the medical marijuana marketplace is already saturated.

But Matt Cook, who wrote the rule book for all this and is now a consultant to the medical marijuana industry, says it's helped pull Denver out of the recession -- occupying once vacant retail and industrial space, providing thousands of jobs and new revenue for the state of Colorado.

Steve Kroft: What's the economic impact been?

Matt Cook: It's huge. There's over a million square feet of leased space in the Denver area. Look at all the electrical contractors, the HVAC contractors, a number of ancillary businesses. It's huge. Tax revenues exceeded-- I believe the last number I heard was in excess of $20 million.

But in spite of all the euphoria, there is a cloud hanging over the cannabis industry in Colorado, and it's not marijuana smoke. It's the federal Controlled Substances Act, which still lists marijuana as a Schedule One drug, every bit as dangerous as heroin, with no medical benefit. And the Justice Department is not happy with the wide-scale commercialization of Colorado cannabis. Sam Kamin is a law professor at the University of Denver, and one of the reigning experts on the subject.

Steve Kroft: In Colorado, you can grow it if you're licensed and you can sell it if you're licensed to people who have a card to buy it.

Sam Kamin: Yes, but--

Steve Kroft: And all of those people are violating federal law.

Sam Kamin: Exactly. And that's the really strange thing is that we have this, you know, sort of hundreds of dispensaries servicing as many as 100,000 people and every transaction that occurs is a federal crime and every -- all the manufacturing of the product, from the growing of it to the making of the products and everything else, all of those are serious federal crimes.

Steve Kroft: Even though the state of Colorado has passed a constitutional amendment-- amendment allowing it--

Sam Kamin: Exactly.

Steve Kroft: --sanctioning it.

Sam Kamin: Exactly. Right? The federal government sees it as a serious crime. They say, "We know that California and 16 other states, the District of Columbia -- we know you guys think it's medicine. It's not. We hear that you want to legalize it. You can't. We can't make you undo your statutes, but we can sure come in and prosecute your citizens that are violating federal law."

Steve Kroft: But they haven't.

Sam Kamin: But they haven't.

And there's a reason for that. Some might call it the triumph of the marketplace. The federal government doesn't have enough manpower to shut down the medical marijuana business in Colorado or prosecute all the purveyors and patients. And the voters don't want it.

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