The Business of Legal Marijuana: People Are Getting Rich, Should You Get In?

NEW YORK:  The line stretched nearly around the block. To people passing by on New Year’s Day, it looked like a queue for the latest iPhone release or for tickets to a Justin Timberlake concert. Few onlookers strolling down Denver’s 16th Street Mall, the epicenter of the state capital’s tourist industry, would have guessed they were witnessing the first state-sanctioned sales of recreational marijuana in the United States.

To say that the owner of this small but opportunistically located cannabis shop appeared overjoyed would be an understatement. He was in the zone, racing up and down the line, managing crowd control, and handing out tickets that preserved customers’ spots in line — there wouldn’t have been enough room in a Whole Foods to absorb the crowd, much less in his roughly 2,500-square-foot store.

“We’re on track to do $130,000 in sales today,” he tells me, requesting anonymity like the other unnamed sources in this article for fear of being targeted by federal law enforcement, state regulators, or prospective burglars.

On an annualized basis, that equates to three times the productivity of an Apple store, which generates more than twice the sales per square foot of the next most productive retailer. Needless to say, in an almost exclusively cash-based business, that’s a lot of dough.

“The genie is out of the bottle,” Roberto Lopesino of Advanced Cannabis Solutions told me earlier in the week, before legal selling began. And by the looks of it, he was right.

The promise of riches

It’s difficult to describe the exuberance that pervades a new industry, particularly one that involves the cachet of a newly legalized drug like marijuana. Of the two dozen or so people I spoke with in the business, every last one of them was convinced that they were on the road to riches. Over and over again, these eager entrepreneurs made analogies to the Gold Rush of the 1860s, which originally populated much of the region, and to the growth of the Internet. “The only thing that even comes close to this,” a penny stock operator with designs on the industry told me, “is the craze leading up to the dot-com bubble.”



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