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DENVER | Two states -- Washington and Colorado -- have passed laws paving the way for the legal sale and purchase of recreational marijuana for adults.
Although the drug is still illegal in the eyes of the federal government, many people are anticipating a major economic boom when Colorado's recreational sales begin in January.
Recently, the Obama administration announced federal authorities would not target states that have enacted such laws if they are able to maintain strong regulatory and enforcement procedures that prevent the distribution of marijuana to minors and stop criminal enterprises and drug cartels from benefiting from the sales.
The economic effects of Colorado's new law are also being felt far away. We traveled to Colorado, California and Ohio to see how entrepreneurs, pot users and politicians are gearing up for the new changes. Meet some of the folks in our story and the roles they play:
The dispensary manager
Andy Betts is the general manager of the Denver Relief Dispensary. After being diagnosed with leukemia and a seizure disorder, Betts became a medical marijuana user himself.America Tonight
As Colorado gears up for recreational pot sales, many medical marijuana dispensaries are preparing to make the transition to retail sales. "We’re still waiting for all the rules to be announced," Betts said. "But it looks like we will choose to go one of two ways: Offering medical use for 18- to 20-year-olds, as well as social use for 21 and up, or 21 and up only for social use. We're now looking at which will be the best for us."
The unlikely pot entrepreneur
Andy Joseph is a Navy veteran and a father of five who lives in Johnstown, Ohio. He is president of the Apeks Fabrication company and the Apeks Supercritical division, which manufactures machines to extract oils from plants. Joseph once had anti-marijuana feelings, but that changed after his invention, a Subcritical/Supercritical CO2 extraction system, gained popularity in the medical marijuana industry.
Originally, Joseph's machine helped the food industry make extracts from vanilla and cayenne pepper, but most of his sales are now linked to the marijuana-infused food industry since it also extracts oil from plant material.America Tonight
Joseph demonstrates how to empty the extracted oil from his machine. “I never would have guessed in a million years that the food that I put on my table is ultimately funded by medical marijuana,” he said. Joseph added that it’s “an entrepreneur’s dream."
Tripp Keber runs Dixie Elixirs, a Denver company that specializes in marijuana-infused foods for medicinal purposes. He launched the company three years ago with one product, a soda infused with medicinal marijuana. Now, his company's portfolio includes approximately 85 products. "This is a company that is growing exponentially," he said. "We're adding (up to) two employees each and every month."
Keber is looking forward to expanding his business when legal recreational sales are permitted in Colorado. “This is certainly the most fascinating, exciting opportunity that I’ve personally ever been involved with," he said. "I can imagine this is going to be an industry that is growing exponentially." Here, an employee makes a chocolate candy that will eventually look like a Tootsie Roll and sell for approximately $8.
Many of Dixie Elixirs' products are pot-infused edibles such as crispy rice treats. They also sell medicated elixirs, pharmaceutical-grade cannabis capsules, tonics and topical lotions.
According to The Denver Post, Keber pleaded guilty in May to possession of marijuana after an arrest at a music festival in Alabama, which does not have a medical-marijuana law. "Keber said he reported the charges to Colorado's Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division and said he does not believe they will have an impact on the company's license."
The true believers
Steve DeAngelo is one of the biggest names in the marijuana-legalization movement. Co-founder of Oakland's Harborside Health Center, president of The ArcView Group, a cannabis investors' network, and former star of the Discovery Channel's "Weed Wars," DeAngelo has been advocating legalization for decades.
"I think that the Obama administration is engaged in an internal debate," DeAngelo said. "I think that there are strong forces that are pushing for reform, and I think that there are strong forces that are opposing reform. Where that power struggle is going to end up, I don’t think we know yet."
David Wedding Dress, or Dress as he prefers to be called, is a co-founder of Harborside Health Center in Oakland, Calif. He also runs the dispensary's day-to-day operations.
Harborside Health Center in Oakland has roughly 130,000 registered patients – more than all the medical marijuana patients in the state of Colorado.
All strains of medical marijuana sold at Harborside are lab-tested for potency and to eliminate potential contaminants.
Daria Serna is a spokeswoman for Colorado Department of Revenue's Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division, the state agency charged with regulating the production, sales and distribution of the drug.
Tracking marijuana from "seed to sale" is the agency's catchphrase, but in March a highly critical state audit found that the agency had not been tracking marijuana at all. "[It] is a work in progress, but we are on a good path," Serna said. "We have addressed all the items in the audit, and we will make sure that all those get implemented."
Brian Seifried is mayor of Garden City, Colo., a town of a few hundred residents that is less than a square-mile in size. The town allowed alcohol after Prohibition, while the neighboring city of Greeley remained dry for several decades. Now, history is repeating itself.
Garden City is home to four medical marijuana dispensaries and all are preparing to sell recreational marijuana. "I think it's safe to say all the communities that are surrounding us have decided to not allow recreational marijuana in their community," Seifried said. "I respect that decision, but it has given us an opportunity to get an economic advantage for our neighborhood here." He added that medical marijuana accounts for nearly a third of the town's sales tax revenue.America Tonight
The pot smoker
Jake Becker of Denver recently worked as a machinist, but plans to work in a medical marijuana dispensary. He claims he has gotten high every day for 10 years. He used to have a medical marijuana card, but now gets drugs through other means. He is looking forward to legally buying for recreational use. “It’s removing that addict culture,” he said. “It’s also removing the drug dealers. Everything is local. It’s legal. Taxes are being paid on it….Everything about it is a good thing. I love it.”