Medical Marijuana in Boston

Cash, Cannabis piled high in the Mile-High City

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DENVER, Colo. —It's a stunning sight. Rows of green marijuana plants -- all illegal under federal law -- growing abundantly inside nondescript grow houses in Denver, Colo.

But this crop is like nothing most people have ever read about or even experimented with.

There are no pests or pollutants. There are only potent plants with giant buds covered in crystals of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the concentrated chemical found in marijuana that kills patients' pain.

From seedlings to harvest to curing in the dark, medical marijuana is now a legitimate $200-million a year industry in Colorado.

"We don't grow pot here," said Jake Salazar, owner of MMJ America, a highly-successful Colorado dispensary with three locations. "We grow medicine for licensed patients."

He said his business alone has created 80 jobs, but it's not without some risk.

He worries about whether federal law enforcement could someday shut him down -- and he worries even more about security.

"All this is primo grown," he said. And it's kept in heavily-fortified vaults.

Just to get inside the dispensary, patients must show a state-issued red card, which also keeps track of how much each patient uses.

Also, dispensaries are cash only. And a lot of cash changes hands. All of Salazar's employees wear panic buttons in case there's a problem.

Nearby, a Denver-based manufacturer called Dixie Elixirs makes many of the products that Salazar's dispensaries sell. And the security there is just as tight. Cameras are everywhere.

"There's not a place in this facility that we're not videoing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week," said Tripp Keber, the company founder.

But thousands drive by every day without a clue what's brewing inside.

Dixie Elixirs offers 75 different medical marijuana products, mostly as edibles for people who would rather eat it than smoke it.

"This is 12 ounces, 40 milligrams," said Keber, holding a bottle of marijuana-medicated soda. "That would be equivalent to smoking four to five marijuana cigarettes."

The variety of products is staggering. Not just sodas, but also fruit lozenges, mints and chocolate truffles.

"We sell literally thousands of these a week," said Christie Lunsford, marketing director at Dixie Elixirs, with a truffle in her hand.

The company even offers marijuana-infused bath salts to soak in.

The plants and products are tested multiple times for strength and purity --- often by employees who are card-carrying users, too.

Both of these companies, as well as many of their competitors, now see Massachusetts, where medical marijuana is now legal, as the next big opportunity.

"The state of Massachusetts, once we get everything finalized, will probably be several hundred million dollars in its first year," Keber said. "And then growing exponentially."
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