DENVER (MainStreet) — Lynn Crawford voted against legalizing marijuana in Colorado in November 2012, but on Thursday afternoon he was standing in line at a marijuana job fair.

"I think the bad is going to outweigh the good," the 63-year-old software developer said, explaining his vote.

But Crawford, who said he's been unemployed for the past few months, will tolerate the negative repercussions of the legislation if it means he gets a new, green job.

He was among more than 1,200 job hunters attending what was billed as "CannaSearch," the first-ever job fair for the legal marijuana industry. He waited for more than three hours in a line that snaked at times for nearly three blocks.

The throngs were much larger than organizers had anticipated.

"I thought we would congratulate ourselves if a hundred people showed up," said Ralph Morgan, co-founder of O.PenVAPE, one of the largest companies in the nation's nascent legal marijuana industry. "I didn't realize we would be seeing 150 to 200 people an hour."

Many job seekers came from out of state, Morgan said, and some came from as far as Texas, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Many came not because they were unemployed but because they want to get into this new industry as it begins to explode with growth.

A security guard posted at the front door kept an orderly flow, like a bouncer at a tony nightclub, so that O.PenVAPEs 6,000-squarefoot headquarters in downtown Denver wasn't overrun. The crowd, ranging from folks 21 of age on up, was exceptionally calm and patient, but as the day wore on, some late-arriving job seekers were turned away.

Caricia Janus, 22, said she rarely if ever spent this much time in line for concerts, but the time passed quickly. "I'm just really excited to get into this industry," she said. "I would love to do this."

Her boyfriend, Kyle McKelligott, 24, said he wants to work in an industry that he can feel passionate about. "I will do anything," he said. "I will start at the bottom and work my way up to the top. It doesn't matter."

 

Laura Kriho of Cannabis Hemp Academy said she was impressed with the caliber of job applicants she interviewed at the job fair.

The academy, which educates people seeking to get into the industry, sought instructors and affiliate marketers, as well as students. "It was quite an overwhelming turnout," she said.

Exhibitors left the event exhausted, but said it was all worth the wear.

"We found some incredible candidates," said Peter Johnson of Colorado Green Tours. "We've got a stack of resumes close to 6 inches tall."

His company guides tourists through the high country, many of whom arrive a little anxious. "They need a little bit of hand holding," Johnson explained. "What they're doing here, they can't do at home."

Johnson said he needs people in sales, information technology, and, of course, behind the wheel as drivers.

"From here on out, we're likely to be in a near constant state of hiring," he said.

Other companies participating in in the job fair included another tour operator, 420 Tours; CannaClassifieds.com, publisher of marijuana industry help-wanted ads; Dixie Elixirs, maker of marijuana infused edibles and beverages; Denver Packaging Co., a provider of cannabis storage solutions; The Hemp Connoisseur, a magazine and website; and three marijuana dispensaries: Colorado's Best, Southwest Alternative Care and Walking Raven.

Maryah Medina, 26, came looking for a job that can give her the number-crunching experience she needs as she studies to become a certified public accountant.

"As an accountant, you like to see the dollars going up," she said.

Here's where the numbers start: Colorado's Department of Revenue recently reported that it took in about $2 million in taxes from recreational marijuana in its first month of legalization. This indicates about $14 million in reported sales in January alone.

It is a bright spot in a still-darkened economy.

Colorado's unemployment rate is healthier than the rest of the nation's at 6.2%, but its recovery has left many people behind.

Mike Humpert, 52, said he was laid off from Microsoft four years ago and has yet to find steady work in information technology.

"My pension's gone," he said. "My unemployment benefits are done. I'm just hurting."

He said his last job was shipped offshore. "I trained the people who took my job," he said. "I couldn't argue with it. That's what they wanted."

There is no stigma to working in the marijuana industry, as far as he's concerned.

"A job is a job," he said. "It doesn't matter. That's what everybody else is here for: A job. To Make money. To survive."

Robert Armstrong, 56, came to the job fair armed with a wide range of skill sets from operations to accounting and finance. He was laid off from his job at a local hospital four years ago, and then he suffered some health problems that kept him from pursuing a new job. Now, he's back on his feet and looking to marijuana for his future.

"These companies are going to grow," he said. "They can't do it with a bunch of guys in tie-dye T-shirts playing bongos. They got to have a business plan, and I'm good with that."

He said he got in front of the chief financial officer of one of the companies exhibiting at the fair and hopes to continue a dialogue that might lead to a new job. Meantime, he said he was impressed with the lack of anxiety in a room full of people who had waited so long in line and were all trying to reinvent themselves in a sluggish labor market.

"I've been at other jobs fairs, in different industries, where people weren't quite as congenial," he said.

Crawford, who voted against legalizing marijuana, said he wouldn't take back his vote, even if this new industry does provide him with a needed job.

He's not against marijuana per se, but he has pretty good reasons behind his vote. He doesn't think the act of legalizing a controlled substance should be embedded as an amendment in the state's constitution. He also hasn't smoked the stuff since the 1970s and wouldn't now, even if he wanted to.

"If I go home today and find out I have a job offer, I might have to take a drug test," he said. "I have to be cleaner than a hound's tooth."

--Written by Al Lewis for MainStreet

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