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Colorado's Marijuana 'Green Rush'

Marketing marijuana in the only state that allows dispensaries to turn a profit

At the 2011 Hempcon medical marijuana convention in Denver in October, business lectures and panel discussions shared the program with more provocative events, like a Miss Hempcon pageant, in which scantily clad women (many of them dressed as nurses) danced for the audience. (The “Hot Ass” and “Best Orgasm” contests were canceled, though they were included at Hempcon events in other cities.) Offering a counterpoint to the spring-break–style high jinks, local attorney Joel D. Russman, speaking at a Hempcon seminar called “Know Your Rights,” warned aspiring medical marijuana entrepreneurs to practice a little restraint when promoting their businesses. “You don’t want to attract a bunch of extra attention,” he said, especially if your industry is essentially breaking federal law. In other words: Cool it with the naked chicks.

There are currently 16 states that allow some form of legalized medical marijuana, but only Colorado allows marijuana businesses to operate as such. It’s the first, and for the moment, only, for-profit marijuana marketplace in the U.S. Predictably, Colorado is in the midst of a marijuana boom. Between 2000—when Colorado voters legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes with Amendment 20—and 2008, Colorado issued roughly 2,000 medical marijuana cards to patients living in the state. By 2011 that number had jumped to over 127,000 paying customers, according to the Colorado Medical Marijuana Registry, and at least 25,000 more have applications pending.