As revelers celebrate 420, industry leaders look to the future

DENVER -- Cool temperatures and rain may have put a damper on the 420 celebration Friday at Denver's Civic Center Park, but industry leaders say there is sunshine ahead and they're focusing on the future.

"There is a lot happening at the federal level right now," said Kristi Kelly, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, a trade organization representing the licensed cannabis industry. "We've got bills being proposed that would legalize hemp and decriminalize marijuana."

Kelly said that despite broad support for decriminalization, there will be a political battle, "because there are some folks who don't want to see it happen."

When asked if she had any idea how far along Colorado would be at this stage, she replied, "I don't think that anyone could have put a crystal ball in front of us to see where were are today."

She said many Colorado marijuana businesses are growing and are expanding into other states.

"Because we've had the benefit of time to mature the regulatory framework, we're really focusing on issues of the future," she said. "For example, what might a research and development license look like? And how would somebody take advantage of such a thing and expand innovation?"

Kelly told Denver7 that the head of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins, went before the Senate several months ago, "specifically because he wanted to have more access and more ability to study the benefits of cannabis on other things, particularly opioid addiction."

She said as more states approve recreational marijuana, there will be more of an "opportunity to put our heads together and identify what is working well."

Some local dispensaries may see a drop-off in business when other states come online, while others are poised to "take-off."

Todd Mitchem, a spokesman for the Green Solution, a chain with 14 storefronts in metro Denver, says they're branching out into other states.

"When you go into a state like Florida or Illinois and you're trying to get licensed," he said, "it's important that what's behind the application is a large amount of experience."

Mitchem added that regulators in other states are "risk averse as it pertains to bringing in new players who they don't know, so they do want someone with experience."

He said businesses that have operated under Colorado's regulatory framework will have an advantage if they decide to expand elsewhere.

Roadblocks

There are still roadblocks.

Ms. Kelly said banking is still an issue.

"Getting safe, consistent access to banking, so that folks don't have to work in an all cash environment is important," she said.

Getting academic access to plants, to study, is also important, she said.

"We're trying to build and evolve all our programs in a way that  advantages public health and safety, advantages science and innovation and advantages medical benefits."

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