The pot business is booming in Colorado, and the owners of one of the state’s largest marijuana dispensaries have big plans: to become the "Costco of weed."
According to the Denver Post's Cannabist, members of the Williams family, who own Medicine Man in northeast Denver, are embarking on a $2.6 million expansion including a 20,000-square-foot retail space "all in white like an Apple store."
"We're building a showcase for the world," Andy Williams, Medicine Man's president and co-founder, told Time magazine.
Their current headquarters — located in Denver's Montbello neighborhood, now dubbed "Potbello" — includes bulletproof glass, armed security guards, 65 video cameras and a $35,000 charcoal air filtration system that is supposed to eliminate the pot smell coming from the building.
“We really are trying to industrialize a hippie process,” Pete Williams, Andy's brother and co-owner, told the paper.
Medicine Man opened in 2010 and quickly became one the state's largest dispensaries of medical marijuana. According to the Cannabist, the company was the first to apply for a license to distribute recreational marijuana. On Jan. 1 — the first day retail pot sales opened — the store sold 15 pounds of marijuana, taking in close to $100,000. More than 600 customers came through Medicine Man's doors.
Overall, the state's pot shops took in more than $1 million on opening day, or Green Wednesday as it's now known.
“This was one of these great opportunities, like a gold rush,” Pete Williams continued. “We were just kind of pioneers, willing to take that risk.”
He said the company recently raised $1.4 million in loans from a marijuana-focused investor group.
And the Post reports there "are discussions about possible expansion in Colorado, a franchise in Las Vegas and development of a top-secret ... system for growing marijuana its architect calls 'the future.'"
But it could be awhile before the Medicine Man achieves its goal of becoming a national brand.
At the moment, recreational marijuana is illegal in all but two states (Colorado and Washington). Others leaning toward legalization, like New Hampshire, still have political hurdles to clear.
Still, there's reason to be optimistic.
President Barack Obama made headlines for comments, published by the New Yorker over the weekend, in which he said pot is no more dangerous than alcohol. Some lawmakers believe the president's comments could help legalization efforts across the country.
Meanwhile, investors are lining up to cash in on the pot boom. Earlier this month, High Times magazine announced a $100 million private equity fund for marijuana businesses. And stocks for pot-related companies have soared in 2014.
But because federal law prevents banks from doing business with sellers of marijuana — a drug that remains, in the eyes of the U.S. government, equal to heroin and ecstasy — businesses like Medicine Man have to operate outside the financial system. Which explains the armed guards and bulletproof glass.
"We're a little fortress," Andy told Time.