"I try not to be too paranoid, but truth of the matter is, under federal law it is not a hundred percent legal," says Kevin. The risk is worth it, however, since Kevin's services have been in high demand lately. With the number of marijuana patients swelling, the need for medicine has outpaced the supply. Some dispensaries have instituted limits on how much medicine its customers can buy so they can ration their stock.

Kevin is a caregiver for about twenty patients, which allows him to cultivate up to 120 plants on their behalf — though he's careful never to cultivate more than 99 at a time — the amount that would trigger a five-year mandatory minimum drug sentence if federal authorities ever come knocking. Kevin gives each of his patients an ounce of free medicine a month; he sells the rest, roughly a pound a month, to half a dozen dispensaries in Denver and Colorado Springs for $250 an ounce. The dispensaries typically turn it around for nearly double that, he says.

Prices for marijuana vary widely, depending on the quality, the grower and the dispensary. As an example, however, a patient could typically buy a quarter ounce for $100 to $150 (on the high side). There are around 28 grams in an ounce, so if a person put half a gram in each joint and smoked one joint per day, that pot would last for two to three weeks. At that rate, a month's worth of medicine would cost $200 to $300.

The industry has also spurred a wide range of pot-related support services and products. Lakewood commercial insurance agent Edward Leonard, for instance, helped a Boulder dispensary obtain a policy last October, and has since become the go-to guy for dispensary insurance, having worked with 23 operations.

"There are lots of insurance agents in Denver that would like to have this business," says Leonard, since he's one of the few who's been able to find an insurance company (which he wouldn't reveal) willing to write a policy that covers general liability and personal property at a dispensary, plus limited coverage for product for sale.

Then there's Naresh Chandranatha, whose website, MMJLine, and call-in phone number, catalogues the ever-increasing number of Colorado dispensaries. "We are essentially a 411 for dispensaries," says Chandranatha, who gets a few hundred calls a day for information. Dispensaries are listed for free, but some pay for advertising.

Those who want to grow their own meds might want to seek out the expertise of "Hans," a legendary marijuana cultivator known for helping develop the "sea of green" mass-production technique. Hans recently relocated to Colorado from Tucson, and he's teaching growing classes at a downtown dispensary, the Peace in Medicine Center.

Hans recently shot footage in town for his popular "Cooking with Marijuana" DVD series — quite fitting, since he filmed the first movies here a decade ago.

"The atmosphere in Denver ten years ago when we made the videos was such that we had to hide the house we were working in, we all wore masks, and we swore the cameramen to secrecy," he says. "Now we did it in an open, public forum at Owsley's Golden Road. We smoked right on stage, and the patients who were there with their cards were able to share in the food."

In Crestone, two businessmen just opened the High Valley Healing Center, the state's first medical cannabis retreat, and in Longmont, Mitchell Shenassa has been singing the praises of the Incredibowl. "We are putting people on the moon, and pipes haven't changed in 300 years," he explains. "For soccer moms and business executives who were smoking joints in high school, we wanted to step it up to the next level."

Shenassa and his business partners spent the past three years developing three-dimensional models and working with engineers they located through Craigslist ads. The result was the Apollo 11 of weed pipes — featuring a polycarbonate expansion chamber and a smoke-injection nozzle — which now retails primarily at Colorado dispensaries for $200, or half that for registered patients. "The dispensaries are a new market," Shenassa says.


Waiting in the dispensary for my appointment with the on-site physician is every bit as tedious and mind-numbing as a trip to a run-of-the-mill doctor's office.

As soon as I'm inside the dispensary, the security guard shows me to a waiting room where a table is stocked with clipboards full of forms to fill out. Through a doorway, customers lounge on a cushy leather couch, watching the History Channel on a flat-screen TV while waiting for their turn to enter the pharmacy room in the back. While the dispensary features a pool table, free fruit and munchies, complimentary chair massages and even a bar where people can ingest their medicine of choice by inhaling it through a vaporizer, all that's off limits to me until I get certified. To help speed up that process, well-dressed workers scurry all around me, Xeroxing driver's licenses, collecting appointment fees, pointing out the on-site ATM, writing out $90 money orders to be sent to the state health department along with each application. Between the chaos and the fact that my back is acting up, I'm starting to feel like I could really use a hit.

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