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SPECIAL REPORT: Marijuana Legalization Means Big Business in Colorado
COLUMBUS (Chris Vanocur/Ken Hines) -- As the medical marijuana debate rages on in Ohio, Colorados pot business -- serving both medicinal and recreational customers -- is in full bloom.
Critics say medical marijuana leads to eventual legalization for recreational use as well. In the case of Colorado, that might be true, but those who grow and sell pot in that state claim the end of prohibition leads to jobs and a robust economy. In fact, you might say green is this years gold in the Centennial State.
Medical marijuana was a good cash crop in Colorado, but recreational pot has been even more successful.
"We went from about 75 sales to upwards of 600 some days," said Tim Cullen, who owns two marijuana shops.
At Cullens new store in Denver, the pot is grown, dried, snipped , carefully weighed, and then sold. The marijuana can either be smoked (not inside the store) or eaten in a variety of products.
While the physical effects of marijuana are well known in Colorado, observers there are only beginning to see the impact of legal pot on the state's economy.
Colorado is expected to pull in $70 million dollars in taxes this year from the sale of marijuana, and that tells only part of the story of the new law's economic benefits for the state, according to Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project.
"Not only are marijuana-related businesses creating jobs and paying taxes, they're also utilizing the services of other businesses in the area."
In addition to the nearly 100 workers Tim Cullen employs, there are independent contractors, construction workers, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and others that are benefiting from the pot boom in Colorado.
"You would just be shocked if you just hung out in front of the store for a day. You would see everyone under the sun. It's been amazing."
A recent search for the word "marijuana" from the state capital building in Colorado using the iPhone Siri feature resulted in 14 hits for nearby pot shops.
While the influx of commerce brought about by the legalization of marijuana is undeniable, Colorado State Representative Mark Waller advised Ohioans to be aware of the impact pot can have on usage rates as well.
The more marijuana you have on your streets, the more people use it, regardless of whether it's for medicinal purposes or not."
Pot shop owners like Cullen have had no trouble finding customers since legalization went into effect in Colorado -- but finding a bank willing to take their money has often been a much different story.
"You end up with cash on hand, and people don't have anywhere to put it, Cullen said.
The reluctance of banks to accept money from marijuana-related business is a result of the prohibition of pot sales on a federal level, which remains in effect despite successful legalization efforts in Colorado, as well as Washington.
Many bank officials shy away from the pot business over concerns of federal money laundering charges they fear could result from such transactions.
Despite the growing pains being felt by legal marijuana sellers in Colorado, however, the business has fast become a major factor in the state's economy.
"More Americans than ever before recognize that marijuana is a relatively benign substance, less harmful than alcohol, and should not be a crime for adults to use," Tvert said.