Tony Dokoupil talks with the businessmen hoping to capitalize on Colorado's cannabis legalization initiative:
It’s already widely rumored that Philip Morris has leased warehouse space in the area. The company denies it, as do its top-tier competitors, but "I’ve heard a lot of talk about it," says Keith Burdick, a partner at Xcalibur, one of the biggest independent generic-brand tobacco companies in the country. "You’re going to get cigarette companies in here. I’m sure of it," says John Wickens, a real-estate agent who has sold or leased acres of commercial space to marijuana growers. Peter Bourne, the drug czar under Jimmy Carter, recently told Newsweek that tobacco executives shared their marijuana contingency plans with him.
The alcohol and tobacco industries traditionally get 80 percent of their profits from heavy users, and there’s every reason to believe that marijuana sellers will need the same ratio. That would mean Colorado’s burgeoning pot business could be the basis for a third huge, blood-sucking vice industry, dependent on converting kids and supporting heavy users. "No way," says [Norton Arbelaez, the owner of two dispensaries and a commercial grow], when I raised this possibility with him. He talked passionately about medicine, and social progress, and it was moving, convincing stuff. "These people have families, and they employ families. They’re about helping people, not hurting people," he said of his peers.