DENVER (CBS4) – If there was any doubt that the “green rush” is on in Colorado, the scene outside a marijuana industry career fair in Denver on Thursday looked like a throwback to the Great Recession.
Thousands of people waited for hours with resumes in hand in a line that stretched several blocks. The O.penVAPE Cannabis Job Fair featured 15 different businesses associated with recreational marijuana sales, and organizers had turn people away by the day’s end.
St. Louis resident Shannon Irvin has been jobless for several months. He drove all the way to Colorado for the fair with hopes of breaking into the state’s “budding” industry.
“With this type of industry and the way the money’s coming in, this is the place to be right now,” said Irvin, who waited for two hours to get in.
One of the businesses at the fair seeking talented job candidates was Walking Raven Wellness Center, a medical marijuana dispensary that now also sells recreational pot.
Co-owner Luke Ramirez said he set up a booth at the fair because his business has “had no choice but to expand” since pot sales became legal at the start of the year.
“Our sales increased about 300 percent. Our traffic through the stores increased by the same number,” Ramirez said. “So, that’s why we’re here today. We actually need to hire more folks to help with that traffic and that added revenue.”
According to newly released statistics from the state, $14 million was spent on marijuana purchases in January.
There is still some question about how successful the pot industry will be, but analysts say it is sustainable and still not near its peak.
“It has been a very harsh economic environment for over a decade, and this industry has a lot of very exciting opportunities for young people,” said Michael Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group.
Only people who were 21 and over were being admitted to the fair, and the huge line that wound around Delaware Street and down 10th Street was filled with a wide variety of people. The first job seeker in showed up at 6 a.m. and waited for 5 hours.
Event organizer Todd Mitchum said the career fair was just the first in what will end up being many fairs like it.
“We’re going to keep nurturing this industry and keep nurturing the environment so the job seeker has a place to go. Because people want to be a part of something.”
Job openings at the fair ranged from things like graphic design and web developers to accountants and IT directors, but Ramirez said because he runs a dispensary he’s also looking for talented “budtenders” and “leaf trimmers.”
“The trimmers work behind the scenes at the warehouse and they handle the plants and clip off the excess leaves to get it ready for sale,” he said.
“I’m just looking for something in the industry,” said Dustin Dove, who promised the CBS4 crew who interviewed him he was just smoking nicotine with his vapor pen while he was waiting in line. “It’s kind of been a dream of mine ever since the medical movement got started and really got big … opportunity knocks.”
A total of $3.5 million of sales tax revenue for the state was generated in January by pot sales. Elliot said marijuana has also opened new economic doors and floated parts of the state’s economy that otherwise would be sinking.
“The marijuana industry has taken up about 3 million square feet of commercial real estate. Imagine for a moment that was all vacant property and what that would do to our economy and to property values. It would be awful,” Elliott said.
MORE FROM CBSNEWS.COM: Pot industry posts the “Help Wanted” sign in Colorado
Marijuana has created such a boom that the state is still trying to catch up to the sale of the drug’s potential, and the towns and counties that have put moratoriums in place to block such sales are feeling the effects.
Legislators are now considering a task force to study the impact on areas where recreational pot sales aren’t allowed.
Elliott says leaders of such municipalities have chosen the dark ages instead of a new day.
“Those communities that are opting out are kind of doing a head-in-the-sand approach, because drug dealing is still going to happen in their communities, they’re just choosing not to control it,” he said.
– Prepared for CBSDenver.com by Jesse Sarles