When CNBC debuts its one-hour documentary, Marijuana Country: The Cannabis Boom on January 5, viewers across the country will see NBC reporter and former Channel 7 anchorman Harry Smith take a look at Colorado's cannabis industry after a year of recreational legalization. Smith and his team observed the beginning of retail cannabis last year in the documentary, "Marijuana in America: Colorado Pot Rush," and continue to look at the legal, social and economic impact of the plant in their latest follow-up.
Westword recently interviewed Smith via email about his interest in legal marijuana, the changes he's noticed after one year and the media's portrayal of the controversial business.
Westword: What changes have you noticed in the marijuana industry (policies, regulations, earning power, the attitude towards it, etc.) since your last visit to Colorado?
Harry Smith: The regulatory landscape continues to change. Perhaps evolve is a better word. Those who are nimble enough to keep up will succeed, and it's incredible that after a year, many companies are still having to deal in cash. Some banks are tip-toeing in, but others have jumped away leaving businesses in the lurch, so there is still a great deal of resentment toward legalization.
Many feel legalization has left the state with a stigma and aren't happy being known as the stoner state, but I have also sensed a softening, though, of some attitudes-- especially as it applies to medical marijuana.
What made CNBC interested in studying Colorado's cannabis industry?
Smith: We came in last January curious to see what was happening at the first place in the world where you could legally buy marijuana for recreational use. That alone drew us in, but the fact is the larger story is endlessly fascinating.
As Governor Hickenlooper has said, "It is a giant social experiment." We've spent the better part of a month there this year, and every time I come back to New York people ask me about it. I say, "It's like watching a Genie come out of a bottle."
While filming and reporting, did you feel safe? Were there any times that you felt like you were covering more of a drug trade than a legitimate industry?
Smith: We never felt we were in an unsafe environment. Many of the people who are operating marijuana businesses view what they are doing as a once-in-a lifetime opportunity. They are quite serious about sound business practices and security. We worked some stories in the black market, too, but we didn't really feel any danger there, either, although we weren't around any significant quantities.
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How do you feel the national media portrays Colorado's marijuana industry, and do you think it's a fair?
Smith: So many unanswered questions. What is the social cost to legalizing an intoxicant? It's still too early to tell. We are really interested in the State Supreme Court case. Colorado's marijuana laws are clear -- employers can run a drug free workplace -- yet earlier legislation is clear, too. What you consume away from work that is legal is out of bounds to employers.
I am also fascinated by the long overdue research -- gene study at the University of Colorado, epilepsy at Denver Health Medical Center. That is only going to increase as the use of medical marijuana spreads. Could marijuana really be the "organic" alternative to opioids and barbiturates? There are a number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who want the VA to say yes, so I have a feeling we will be back.
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