DENVER - Lawmakers in Arizona are in the process of reviewing medical marijuana recommendation card applications and applications for medical marijuana dispensaries. Meantime, other states, like Colorado, are a few years ahead of us.
Medical marijuana has been legal in Colorado for about 10 years, but it wasn’t until a legal loophole was discovered in 2009 that the industry blew up.
“We suddenly saw this proliferation of dispensaries,” said State Representative Tom Massey, a lawmaker who’s working to clamp down on medical marijuana in Colorado.
Dispensaries quickly popped up in downtown Denver, but also in suburbs like Cherry Creek, an upscale part of Denver, about 15 minutes from downtown. Here you’ll find fancy shopping, expensive homes and schools. You’ll also find a handful of medical marijuana dispensaries.
“I thought I should keep my ears and eyes open to see if it impacted my neighborhood, I live only like four blocks from here,” said Ricardo Barrera, a man who lives just a few blocks from commercial Cherry Creek.
The owners of Alpine Herbal Wellness, Nick King and Sue Harank, said their medical marijuana dispensary is nothing like a head shop. In fact, part of it is an art gallery. They even gave us unrestricted access to their business.
“We have nothing to hide, we've very legitimate business people,” added Harank.
King, who spent 20 years as a school teacher, said, “My wife's experience with using cannabis as a way of coping with the issues around ALS is what opened my eyes to the therapeutic aspects of it.”
Now he grows and sells marijuana. What is typically an illicit drug has become a legitimate business. Harank showed us around the dispensary, explaining the ins and outs of their business.
“It's sort of like a spice jar so that patients can smell the turpines, which the turpines determine the odor, the aroma of it,” said Harank.
They sell edible marijuana, inhalable marijuana and topical marijuana ointments, and all of the pot is grown in Colorado.
I was given access to a grow operation in Denver. For security reasons I was asked not to shoot video of the outside of the building.
Inside, it’s exactly what you might expect a professional grow operation to look like. Fans were blowing, grow lights were gleaming and irrigation systems were dripping throughout. There are hundreds of plants inside, thousands of dollars in potential profit. This is a far cry from a small basement operation, it takes a lot of work and expertise to get a grow to a professional level.
“There are no yellow leaves on it which means there's not a calcium magnesium deficiency in the plant. It's been fed properly, the proper amounts. Believe it or not, each plant can be individually fed and watered,” said Chloe Villano, a medical marijuana consultant who showed us around the grow facility.
I'm told this is one of the nicer grow facilities in Colorado. They can often be the target of theft so they are all on the state's registry, but kept secret to the public.
“To be honest with you, this isn't something that everybody gets to see on a daily basis. It's a business, it's like going to a manufacturing facility,” added Villano.
She said the grower's goal is to keep the smell to a minimum so neighbors have no idea it's even here. They use carbon filters to do that.
Many people in Arizona are concerned about what happens when a grow facility or dispensary opens up in their town. Does crime increase?
Dan Hartman, director of the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division for the state of Colorado, said, “It certainly hits the news more, but I think that the reality is from the stats that we've gotten from the Denver police and some of the others over the last couple of years when they started doing it, these areas really have no increase in crime.”
Dispensary owners are required to use extra thick glass and security cameras so breaking into one wouldn’t be easy.
“The amount of security that is required makes it a very unlikely target,” added one dispensary owner.
I talked with neighbors in the Cherry Creek area of Denver and none of them claim the multiple dispensaries brought crime into the area with them.
“So far, I have not been cognisant of any impact negative or positive. I walk by them all the time and they're just storefronts to me,” said Barrera.
“The people who are going to use them are going to come and use them and the other people aren't affected by it,” added Elyse Craig, another neighbor who lives just blocks from dispensaries.
There is a pre-school about half a mile down the road from the Alpine Herbal Wellness Center. Workers would not go on camera but did tell me that despite a huge outcry when the dispensaries first opened, it has not been an issue for them.
Copyright 2011 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
RIGHT NOW on ABC15.com
A judge on Thursday could determine whether or not a re-trial of the sentencing phase in the Jodi Arias case will be postponed until January 2014.
Two men are dead after one brother shot the other and then himself Wednesday night.
Officials said Wednesday they have been able to secure the west flank of the Doce Fire, but the wind-fueled blaze is still posing a containment problem.
James Gandolfini, known for his role as Tony Soprano on "The Sopranos," reportedly died from a possible heart attack while in Italy.
Phoenix police said Christopher Simcox, co-founder of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, has been accused of molesting three young girls.
Gusty winds not helping firefighters as they battle the Doce Fire near Prescott. Find out how long it will be before we see lighter winds. Plus, how hot we're staying as we head toward the first official day of Summer.
Authorities say convicted Valley serial shooter, Dale Hausner, was found unresponsive in his cell Wednesday afternoon.
An evidentiary hearing is scheduled Wednesday, June 19 for a man who allegedly shot at four individuals with potentially racist intentions.
Coping with the health effects of wildfire smoke requires both community cooperation and some individual judgment and ingenuity, experts say.
The shelter said they can hold up to 110 people overnight, and the longer the evacuation orders remain in place, the busier they expect the shelter to be.