The state’s pot producers and retailers are having trouble securing business financing because banks won’t give them loans — and most of the time, not even an account.
State lawmakers are about to shake up the marketplace in unpredictable ways with regulations covering everything from the shape of containers to the labeling required for pot-laced brownies and other “infused products.”
And business owners say they’re anxious about the intentions of the federal government, which could seize millions of dollars they have invested or even send them to prison.
At a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said that he would soon announce a response to the initiatives in Colorado and Washington last year legalizing pot for recreational use. The federal government, which deems marijuana a controlled substance, could upend the plans of Colorado entrepreneurs at any moment.
Last year, the state’s voters approved a constitutional amendment to “regulate marijuana like alcohol” for adults to buy in small amounts, building on the state’s 13-year-old law allowing the sale of marijuana to medical patients. Under the new measure, marijuana stores, or dispensaries, must register with the state, but many of the other regulations governing pot sales are still being finalized.
Kristi Kelly, 35, began selling medical marijuana three years ago and plans to grow the business when recreational sales become legal in 2014. Her Good Meds company includes three stores and two industrial indoor gardens.
Wearing a blue blazer and knee-high leather boots on a recent tour of her operation, Kelly was more dressed up than most of her customers and employees. Some sat on couches in hooded sweatshirts and dreadlocks trimming dried marijuana plants. Jimi Hendrix played in the background.
She led the way through one of her “grow facilities,” a 65,000-square-foot garden where plants at different stages were segregated into different rooms by maturity.
“We have about 10 rooms that look exactly like this,” Kelly said over the hum of a humidifier. A chain of 1,000-watt fixtures showered bright light on dozens of plants so heavily laden with large flowers that they were supported by a net. A valve on the wall periodically spurted carbon dioxide.
A Washington, D.C. native, Kelly has a high-energy demeanor that seems more at home on the East Coast than in laid-back Denver. A former ad agency executive who once managed accounts for government agencies such as the U.S. Mint, she said she deals with the uncertainty of operating in a legal gray area by keeping a close watch on risks she can control, such as security and compliance with state rules.