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The Pot Process: Recreational Marijuana From Grow House To Cannabis Shop

DENVER (WCCO) -- With the debate over legalizing marijuana on the horizon in Minnesota, WCCO has been taking a look at how it changed Colorado.

WCCO set up a course near Denver to see what driving while high looks like and talked with troopers about the challenges they face on the road. Now WCCO goes inside a grow house to get a rare look at how weed is grown.

Drive around Denver and you'll see stores that legally sell recreational marijuana.

"It's kind of like Starbucks. There's one on every corner," Julie Romney, a marijuana user, said.

Before the product hits the store, it starts at a grow house. Inside a nondescript building near the center of town is an entire marijuana operation.

"We grow commercial-grade cannabis in a large warehouse that's been converted over to grow weed," said Josh Hawn, the cultivation manager at Tru Cannabis.

WCCO asked him to explain the full process that starts with what's called a "mom" and a "clone." The mom plant is trimmed to make the clone.

"A clone is…an exact genetic replica of its mom," Hawn said. "This plant will produce the same terpene, the same high, everything, every time, the exact same. We can do it indefinitely."

From there, it's on to the veg room where the plants grow for three weeks.

"So they can go into flower, have nice strong roots and a good strong structure," Hawn said.

Then the flowers bloom.

"You want to open it up, get in there between some leaves where you see the stalk and give it a sniff. You can also pinch it...what gets on your hands is what gets you high, it's THC," Hawn explained.

Hawn says the operation is driven by science, tested and highly regulated.

After a nine-week flower cycle, the plants are dried before trimmers pull off the big leaves.

Why do they dry the plants?

"So we can smoke it. So it's in a smokeable form," Hawn said. "It's really fat right now. It's nice and swelled up and full of water and we need it to shrink down into smokeable form."

The weed dries in bins before making its way to a bag to be delivered to the store.

"A big thing about cannabis is how it looks in the bag or how it looks in the jar. Every strain is different and you have to think about what people want and give them a large palate," Hawn said.

He said the grow house building is secure and has cameras, where even the state can tap in to take a look at any time.

The security extends to the business side.

Walk into Lit dispensary and there's a locked door where a guard first checks an ID to make sure buyers are over 21.

The guard is armed and is the one to guide customers through another locked door and into the store.

"You pick and choose what you like. A lot of times the bartenders let you know what's good or you get their advice," Romney said.

The product is behind glass where customers can see it.

"When it comes down to it, I'm just providing a really good, like, basic smile for the community," employee Trisha Gomez said.

Everyone is looking for something different.

"I asked for the highest percentage of THC that they had...whatever gets you the highest," one customer said.

He said he moved from Indiana after Colorado changed its law. He says he was looking to use marijuana "without the legal problems."

That's a common theme for people who enjoy weed.

"I don't have to hide no more," Kedrick Harry said.

"This is what I use," Romney added. "I really don't drink anymore."

Visitors use too.

"I pretty much try all of it when I come. I wish it was legal more places," said Tessa Dreamer of South Dakota.

From the grow house to the store to the customer, marijuana is readily available.

"I'd just keep an open mind, because this marijuana thing has brought so much money to Colorado," Harry said.

This year, the tax revenue surpassed $1 billion since recreational use was legalized in Colorado nearly six years ago. That money goes to state and local government and has been used to improve mental health services, help the homeless, assist schools with literacy initiatives and more.

But it's not without problems.

Criminals have broken into grow houses and stores. The owner of the places we saw said they have two things thieves want: cannabis and cash. He's working on getting banking approved on the federal level for the all cash business.

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