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Colorado's marijuana reality could be Nevada's future

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Medical marijuana businesses in Nevada are well on their way to opening. That has some predicting legal recreational pot in the Silver State may not be far behind.

Colorado is among the states that have legalized recreational marijuana. So what are the pros and cons of legalization? FOX5 took a trip to Denver to find out.

Since medical and recreational marijuana became legal in Colorado, the state has seen more than $1 billion in sales.

Situated in an industrial area just minutes from Denver International Airport is Medicine Man, Colorado's largest seller of marijuana. The storefront, small and unassuming, provides both recreational and medicinal marijuana of all types.

It's not until you step into the back that it becomes clear how big the business is.

Medicine Man president and chief executive officer Andy Williams, an engineer by trade, now oversees a multimillion-dollar operation, and it's perfectly legal. The grow space at Medicine Man is 40,000 square feet.

"You really have to control the environment in order to maximize the production. We really view this as a manufacturing facility," Williams said.

Medicine Man grows between 50 and 100 strains of marijuana at any time, all with high-tech precision.

"When you come in here and get Blue Dream, it's going to be the same Blue Dream every time. That's because of our process. We do it the same way every time, and we grow it all ourselves, so we're not buying from other suppliers. You know it's going to be safe and consistent and high quality," Williams said.

A section of the operation called the Green Mile is filled with what are referred to as mother plants.

"Some of these larger mothers that you see up here can produce between 300 and 400 clones every two weeks. That's how we keep the production cycle going," Williams said.

The buyer demographic may surprise you. Medicine Man's oldest customer is 97 years old. The average customer age is 40.

"People range from your snowboarder or hippie type to soccer moms and businessmen," Williams said.

They all pay a 36-percent sales tax. That's a big reason why Colorado voters passed Amendment 64 in 2012. The law allows for the sale of recreational marijuana with the first $40 million in revenue going to schools.

"[We are talking] about a legal, adult use system for marijuana, [which] is taking a product that is currently widely available on an underground criminal market with no oversight and no clarity about where the money is going, who's profiting from it and what the product is and putting it behind a regulated and taxed counter," said Taylor West with the National Cannabis Industry Association.

So far, revenues in Colorado are much lower than projected. Advocates claim that's been offset by a boom in tourism and job growth.

Detractors say money shouldn't be the focus. They're concerned about the dangers associated with marijuana use.

"We have the most potent marijuana in the world right now in Colorado. That's what commercialization brings. It doesn't make us safer. It doesn't protect our communities, and it's not making our children safer. It's about commercializing what is now a very potent drug," said Bob Doyle, who chairs the Colorado Sam Coalition, a group opposed to marijuana legalization.

Since recreational marijuana dispensaries were approved by voters, they proliferated. You'll find them not only in downtown Denver but in residential areas and in business districts.

Denver is currently home to 340 pot shops. By comparison, Seattle, the largest city in the only other state where recreational use is legal, has 21.

"It's easier in Colorado to find pot than to get a cup of coffee," said Gina Carbone with Smart Colorado, a group focused on preventing kids from using marijuana.

"We were told this would be strictly regulated and kept out of the hands of our kids because it would take away the black market. Well, it seems the opposite has happened. The black market is alive and well. It is thriving in Colorado because those under 21 who want to get this stuff are getting their hands on it," Carbone continued.

It's marijuana edibles that really have Carbone concerned.

"Anything and everything can become a marijuana edible. We have baba ghanoush that's a marijuana edible," she said.

“The tobacco companies used to say Joe Camel the cartoon character was not about targeting kids. Here we are now in Colorado where we have marijuana gummy bears, cupcakes and soda. They want us to believe that's not targeting children," Doyle said.

With efforts to legalize recreational use in Nevada underway, the debate is coming to the Silver State.

"It fits perfectly with our business model, which is come here, have fun - whatever happens in Vegas stays here. We know marijuana is out there already, so why not legalize it, tax it, use the money for schools? It's the perfect fit, I think," State Sen. Richard S. "Tick" Segerblom said.

Signatures are being collected to get the issue on the 2016 ballot. If successful, the Legislature could pass it in the upcoming session, and if the governor were to sign it into law, public pot shops would become reality in Nevada without the issue going to voters.

"This thing is moving forward, and I don't think anyone can stop it. We might as well capitalize on it," Segerblom said.

Colorado's law allows cities to opt out of allowing recreational sales. More than 200 have done so, including the state's second-largest city, Colorado Springs.

Oregon and Alaska had recreational marijuana on their ballots last week. It passed in both states.

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