US CO: When Capitalism Meets Cannabis

Newshawk: Please Write a LTE
Pubdate: Sun, 27 Jun 2010
Source: New York Times (NY)
Page: BU1
Copyright: 2010 The New York Times Company
Author: David Segal
Bookmark: (Cannabis – Medicinal – U.S.)


BOULDER, Colo. — ANYONE who thinks it would be easy to get rich
selling marijuana in a state where it’s legal should spend an hour
with Ravi Respeto, manager of the Farmacy, an upscale dispensary here
that offers Strawberry Haze, Hawaiian Skunk and other strains of
Cannabis sativa at up to $16 a gram.

She will harsh your mellow.

“No M.B.A. program could have prepared me for this experience,” she
says, wearing a cream-colored smock made of hemp. “People have this
misconception that you just jump into it and start making money hand
over fist, and that is not the case.”

Since this place opened in January, it’s been one nerve-fraying
problem after another. Pot growers, used to cash-only transactions,
are shocked to be paid with checks and asked for receipts. And there
are a lot of unhappy surprises, like one not long ago when the
Farmacy learned that its line of pot-infused beverages could not be
sold nearby in Denver. Officials there had decided that any
marijuana-tinged consumables had to be produced in a kitchen in the city.

“You’d never see a law that says, ‘If you want to sell Nike shoes in
San Francisco, the shoes have to be made in San Francisco,'” says Ms.
Respeto, sitting in a tiny office on the second floor of the Farmacy.
“But in this industry you get stuff like that all the time.”

One of the odder experiments in the recent history of American
capitalism is unfolding here in the Rockies: the country’s first
attempt at fully regulating, licensing and taxing a for-profit
marijuana trade. In California, medical marijuana dispensary owners
work in nonprofit collectives, but the cannabis pioneers of Colorado
are free to pocket as much as they can – as long as they stay within the rules.

The catch is that there are a ton of rules, and more are coming in
the next few months. The authorities here were initially caught off
guard when dispensary mania began last year, after President Obama
announced that federal law enforcement officials wouldn’t trouble
users and suppliers as long as they complied with state law. In
Colorado, where a constitutional amendment legalizing medical
marijuana was passed in 2000, hundreds of dispensaries popped up and
a startling number of residents turned out to be in “severe pain,”
the most popular of eight conditions that can be treated legally with
the once-demonized weed.

More than 80,000 people here now have medical marijuana certificates,
which are essentially prescriptions, and for months new enrollees
have signed up at a rate of roughly 1,000 a day.