The business of marijuana is still being examined and critiqued as Colorado comes to grips with regulating a substance the federal government still considers illegal.
"We're trying to evolve with the industry," said Mary Bahr, with Good Meds Dispensary in Denver. "This is an industry that came out of people's basements, but now we're moving to the more agricultural aspects."
To foster understanding of the industry's challenges and growth, the West Chamber hosted the first Business of Marijuana bus tour and panel on May 3.
"This is about education for everyone," chamber president Pam Bales said. "It's part of our state now, and we need to understand it."
The event was split into two sections — a tour to two marijuana businesses and a panel discussion with experts.
Some attendees such as John Kovacs, with Mile High Human Resources,a consulting firm, came to learn about specific industry areas like employee rights.
Others just wanted to learn.
"I am just interested in knowing more about it," said Pat Dolan with AAA Colorado. "Legalized marijuana is in our society now, and I want to know more about it."
Colorado legalized medical marijuana 12 years before voters legalized its recreational use in 2012. As such, the medical portion of the industry has had more time to get up and running.
Bahr and her husband started a medicinal marijuana dispensary six years ago in Clear Creek, and later got involved with Good Meds founder John Knapp. It also has locations in Lakewood and unincorporated Arapahoe County for patients. Good Meds is the only marijuana business in the chamber.
The grow facility in Denver has about 55 employees. Good Meds has 200 unique strains it can grow for patients, and staff size allows trimmers to trim about one pound of marijuana leaves a day. Pre-packing is also done at the facility.
Another area business the tour visited is Best Colorado Meds in Wheat Ridge, which provided a look at the relatively young recreational industry.
Best Colorado Meds is a medicinal and recreational business with facilities in Wheat Ridge and Fort Collins. Many challenges face these kinds of businesses, manager Max Gentry said.
He highlighted the difficulties his company faces with regulations and uncertainty about the industry's status. Because of that, it's hard to do any kind of banking services or find business partners, Gentry said.
"When we find someone who will work with us, we work closely with them and spread the word about the business," he said. "People are still scared of marijuana for no reason."
Best Colorado Meds makes a variety of edible options, including special order cakes and peanut butter cups. During the tour, attendees asked about being a "bud tender" and about some facets of the laws they didn't know.
"The City of Wheat Ridge and I are on great terms," Gentry said. "We have longtime patients who come to us to try our new dishes and are happy to support us."
Wheat Ridge and Edgewater are the only two cities in Jefferson County that allow recreational marijuana businesses, which puts Wheat Ridge police chief Dan Brennan on the front lines of the burgeoning industry.
"Many people in our community had dire predictions of what was going to happening, but we have the best regulated marijuana industry in the world," he said. "It's been challenging from a zoning perspective, and we're keeping an eye on usage at schools."
Brennan took part in a panel discussion that included John Bolmer, a lawyer with Hall & Evans; Jim Burack, director of the Colorado Department of Revenue's Marijuana Enforcement Division; Michael Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group; and Walker Williams with Forte Human Resources.
All spoke about marijuana from a different perspective. Brennan received a lot of attention because of Wheat Ridge's acceptance of recreational marijuana businesses.
Attendees also had questions about the money from taxes going to schools, the impact legalization has on organized crime and how to deal with scent complaints.
"Much of this is about embracing best practices as a business owner," Bahr said. "We model our business like any other, and act like we one day will be federally monitored — because we will."