Colorado’s legalization of pot leads to explosion in some tourism

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DENVER, Colorado-- The scream is easy to hear. "Fire in the hole!" And with that, Denver area authorities set off controlled explosions designed to help them learn how to battle a certain type of fire that's been on the rise in Colorado since the state legalized marijuana.

They are called "hash oil" explosions, and they occur when people try to illegally extract THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, and turn it into a liquid.

The THC in one plant can be worth $3,500. Companies can extract the THC safely, but when people try to do it in their homes using a concoction that includes butane, a small ignition source can set off a large explosion.

Authorities in Aurora, a Denver suburb, have seen seven explosions since the legalization of pot. "I think in the state there's been about 38 of these butane/hash oil explosions," said Derek Siegle, who heads a federal program fighting drug trafficking in northeast Ohio.

"And," he adds, "people are getting hurt."

But supporters of legalizing pot in Ohio said any risk does not come from changing the law.

"I think it's likely those people are doing that now, and would continue whatever the policy is," said Lydia Bolander, a spokesperson for ResponsibleOhio, the group pushing to put the marijuana issue on Ohio's November ballot.

 *Marijuana debate: What would you be voting on? Click here as Bill Sheil takes a look*

"We're building in a lot of ways for people to follow the law and do so safely," she added.

What's clear in Colorado is that portions of the tourism industry have seen tremendous growth since pot has been legalized.

Rocky Mountain High Tours offers limo rides to Denver-area pot shops. "It's gone way beyond our expectations," said Dawn Blackmun, who works for the company.

Outside Denver Broncos football games, fans who traveled to cheer the visiting team often line up at the Mile High Cannabis shop to buy pot.

"We don't care what part of the country you're from," said Larry Nassau, who's with the store, "we cheer for everyone."

And some tourists, like Steve McFarland from Texas, said pot has become part of a tourist's experience. "It's something that you do in the state of Colorado," he said.

If Ohio puts a proposal to legalize pot on the November ballot, it will be similar in some way to what is legal in Colorado - and different in others.

Like Colorado, Ohioans would be voting on whether to legalize marijuana for both adult recreational use as well as medicinal purposes.

But, unlike in Colorado, Ohio would limit who could grow marijuana for legal sale to ten sites that are owned by the investors who are financially backing the legalization campaign to the tune of about $2 million apiece.

Supporters said a controlled growth will help Ohio avoid some of the problems Colorado has experienced because having only ten sites means the pot can be tightly regulated for both its quantity and quality.

They also said with ten competitors, the market will keep prices down.

Opponents contend it will allow ten people or investment groups to control the market in Ohio.

The proposal would allow people to obtain licenses in Ohio to grow up to four plants at home for personal use.

ResponsibleOhio needs to collect just under 306,000 valid signatures to get the issue on the November ballot. The group said it has already collected about 250,000.