Line up your own money, your family's money, your friends' money — and probably some loan shark money too.


On a chilly February evening in the Mile High City, Chriss Knapp unlocks the door to a red-brick, 90,000-square-foot warehouse. A security camera monitors his movements. The dank, earthy aroma of marijuana plants growing in a controlled environment greets visitors with the subtlety of a six-foot-bong hit. The 28-year-old owner of Good Meds, a 3-year-old company that operates dispensaries in Boulder and Denver, gives a tour of his facility. He walks through a door with a sign warning that the grow room's atmosphere is "oxygen deficient."
There's certainly a lot of photosynthesis going on. An array of LED growing lights bathes the room in a dusty golden hue, nurturing a compact forest of marijuana plants. "We have about 4,000 plants in the warehouse at any given time," Knapp says. Though he won't give a specific number, he says monthly revenues are "several hundred thousand dollars."
However, Knapp says the cost of running a medical marijuana operation runs in the six figures as well.
That is the hardest lesson that upstart medical marijuana business owners fail to heed: It's not a simple matter of throwing up grow lights in a warehouse, planting a crop, and then smoking a joint watching the plants grow. A successful operation requires all the money and gold coins in Scrooge McDuck's bank vault and more.
To get a license in Colorado costs $3,000 to $14,000, and additional licensing fees can total about $8,000.
The state requires that every licensed medical marijuana facility must have a closed-circuit security alarm system on all perimeter entry points and perimeter windows installed by an alarm installation company approved by the enforcement division. The surveillance has to be done by a security company that must also be authorized by state regulators. Medical marijuana businesses also have to put in motion detectors, pressure switches, and panic alarms.
Knapp and his partners have spent $60,000 putting up a security system that met the standards of Colorado's marijuana enforcement division.
"We're not even close to having all our cameras up," Knapp says. "Every time we turn around and go on a bigger scale, it's ten G's here or ten G's there."
They spent $500,000 in electrical upgrades to expand the operation. "We've scaled up our environmental controls, which cost us $250,000," Knapp says. "We have to epoxy the floor in our drying room. It's only 2,200 square feet, but the lowest quote was $8,000."
Medical marijuana pot businesses have to find capital for buildings, seeds, equipment, computers, and all other startup costs through nontraditional lenders. With banks cautious about being prosecuted for money laundering and Wall Street investors just now starting to take chances on a small handful of startups for the same reasons, entrepreneurs like Knapp are forced to turn to family and friends.
"You can't go to the bank for anything," says Mark Santiago, the Miami commercial real estate broker partnering with Calkin. "That is why organized crime and shady entities have penetrated the market. Honest investors aren't diving in, leaving the market ripe for those other fucking idiots."
It's good to have an angel investor, a wealthy family member, or a loan shark — one who has a high tolerance for risk.
"You have to convince people to be more risky with their money if it all goes to shit," Knapp says. "An investor could lose all his money."

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