Is Marijuana the Holy Grail of the Economy?

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DENVER - The dark economic recession that Coloradans faced in 2009 is now a year in the past for the state's bright future ahead. The Centennial State pulled in nearly $3.5 million in pot-related tax revenue in January 2014 alone.

For January, the figure combines revenue from medical ($1.5 million) and recreational marijuana ($2 million)--revenue levels that would project annual revenue of $42 million for the state.

With talk about a possible marijuana initiative appearing on the 2016 ballot here, Missourians are slowly being introduced to the idea of legalization.

Christie Lunsford is director of operations at 3D Cannabis Center in Denver. She has seen and experienced the immense growth in the marijuana industry since the store opened in 2010.

"In this building, we were only renting about four thousand feet initially," Lunsford said. "Now that we are one of the first legal marijuana stores in the United States, we've brought our cultivation up to 18 thousand square feet and we are currently building two new greenhouses up in the mountains."

The director of The Marijuana Industry Group (MIG), Michael Elliott, said the marijuana industry has taken over between three and five million square feet of real estate in Colorado.

Elliott pointed out the increase in demand since January has created 7,500-10,000 jobs throughout the state.

3D Cannabis Center started with one employee in 2010 and now employs more than 37 people.

Colorado has nearly 500 medical marijuana centers serving nearly 110 thousand medical marijuana patients, with 70 retail marijuana stores opening since January 1. Fifteen percent of the medical marijuana centers have converted to the recreational side.

"It went from 110 thousand medical marijuana patients to about four billion people in this world that are 21 and up that can come and purchase from one of these businesses," Elliott said.

Lunsford said 80 percent of customers who come through the doors at 3D Cannabis Center are from out of state.

"The market here in Colorado has experienced exponential growth just in the last three months and people are coming from all over the U.S. to learn what we are doing here and take that knowledge back to their own state," Lunsford said.

The biggest question is how to spend the tax revenue being generated. Voters approved a law last year that requires the first $40 million collected from excise taxes to be directed toward school construction.

"We've got 500 pages now of marijuana law and rule," Elliott said. "We need money to make this program work. We want money to keep marijuana out of our schools and for public education campaigns urging people to not sell it to kids or give it to kids. Also, to not take it out of state and to keep our roads safe by not driving impaired and to not consume it publicly."

"I think the people in Missouri need to look at medical marijuana first," Lunsford said. "Of the one thousand people that come through our door every week, about 30  percent of them are using marijuana for a medicinal effect."

Legalizing marijuana would mean significant changes in the way crimes are viewed in the state of Missouri. From the tax revenue generated in Colorado, more conversation of marijuana legalization in Missouri could appear on the horizon and the ballot in the next few years.