Denver, Colo. – There’s a stretch of Broadway that’s called Broadsterdam because of its medical-marijuana dispensaries. Just a block over, flanking Acoma and Bannock Streets, is a warehouse district. It’s not hard to guess which of the squat drab buildings are grow-ops (marijuana-growing operations) — they’re the ones wound in razor or barbed wire, with protruding cameras, barred windows, and extra air-conditioner units (the lights needed to grow plants make it hot in the warehouses, but the plants need cooler temperatures). Sometimes when you drive by, you can smell weed wafting in the breeze. And deep inside at least a few of those warehouses are vaults brimming with cash. Welcome to Colorado’s marijuana industry.
It’s been about nine months since Coloradans voted to legalize the recreational consumption of marijuana by adults over 21, and state lawmakers have until October 1 to figure out how to regulate the nascent industry. Retail stores are expected to be selling marijuana to anyone over 21 (including the inevitable marijuana tourists from out of state) by January 2014. And until then, the people whose livelihoods are inextricably linked to the marijuana industry — a burgeoning group that includes black-market dealers, drug-reform activists, medical-dispensary owners, and countless others — will watch, wait, and carefully navigate the emerging regulatory terrain.