From his 80-acre ranch northeast of Mancos, local trailblazer and federal outlaw Jim Cody is proud to call Colorado home.
"We are 50 states united under one federal government," he said recently as a morning sun beamed across his face. "If we want to avoid a sales tax, if we're against abortion or if we want to have a gay wedding, then there are different states we can move to or away from. In Colorado, the people have spoken not once, but twice and very clearly in favor of marijuana reform."
An outlaw in the eyes of Uncle Sam, Cody understands the federal government has the authority to arrest and charge him with criminal activity, but he maintains he is simply standing up for his rights as a Coloradan.
"I live in Colorado, and I'm exercising my rights," he proclaimed.
That liberty has now pushed Cody into the limelight as a community pioneer in Mancos. Town officials recently voted unanimously to give him the nod as the first proprietor of a medical marijuana dispensary in the Mancos Valley.
Business partner Nate Fate said the need for a dispensary in Mancos is great. A number of area patients are homebound, and those who aren't are forced to drive to Cortez or Durango, he said.
"We've had a lot of people ask us about opening in Mancos, and when Jim approached us it was a natural fit," Fate said. "This is a legal product that should be accessible."
After clearing a total of five public hearings without one voice of dissent, Cody anticipates that he and his partnership with Cortez-based Beacon Wellness Group will hire up to 10 employees.
"These are not minimum-wage jobs," he said. "These are higher, decent wages."
The venture is also projected to significantly boost local and state coffers, and to silence any remaining critics, Cody said the dispensary is a pharmacy, not a distribution center.
"This is not a business for the timid," he said. "The state background check was the most thorough investigation I've ever faced."
Appreciative of the high standards to enter the venture, Cody was submitted to probes from both the Colorado Bureau of Investigations and Federal Bureau of Investigations. In addition to double fingerprints, Cody dropped more than $20,000 in non-returnable fees to file multiple multi-page applications.
"I had to be committed to take this on, or maybe I should have been committed," he said, joking.
The federal prohibition against marijuana; however, is not a laughing matter. But neither is pain and suffering. A former contractor, Cody said he owes his new green-thumb endeavor to cancer. The disease was responsible for his mother's death a few years ago.
"During chemotherapy, my mom lost 30 pounds in five weeks," he said. "Her body went into septic shock, and I truly believe if she had been able to eat, she'd still be here today."
While watching his mother's demise, Cody attempted to persuade her to try edible marijuana on several occasions in hopes she would regain her appetite. A dignified woman, she refused.
"She was too concerned about what other people would think," Cody said.
With a life's calling to help other's avoid similar agony, Cody set out to become an individual caregiver under Colorado's medical marijuana laws. He's currently supplying medicine for five patients, but he's recently cleared all federal, state and local hurdles to open a new dispensary for others in need. The new business at 385 S. Willow in Mancos is tentatively set to open Nov. 1, he said.
"The town trustees have been diligent and supportive," he said. "They put in a lot of effort to change the laws, and I feel comfortable knowing that we have a local ordinance and a set of state regulations to follow."
Cody admits he is a green horn when it comes to large-scale cultivation, but over the last four years he has succeeded in producing a quality product that patients can trust.
The two active ingredients in marijuana are THC and cannabinoids, which form on the buds as small hair-like fibers. Known as crystals, in early formation these fibers remain translucent. Across time, they start to turn white, and as the plant reaches full maturity the crystals turn an amber color.
"When these crystals are in their clear form, that's a pick me up," Cody explained. "When you have the amber, for most people, it tends to knock you out."
Cody explained the key: matching the euphoric highs formed from the crystals or the numbing lows produced from the ambers to the patients' particular needs.
"We want to brand our strains," Cody said. "We want to have a Mancos white, a Mancos amber or whatever, to better inform our patients of what type of medicine they are receiving."
At a public hearing last week in Mancos, one medical marijuana patient said local patients need a local dispensary.
"It would be nice to keep our money in our own community," he said.
Mancos Mayor Rachel Simbeck said very few in the community voiced any opposition to the new business.
"It seems like the citizens will like not having to drive to other towns," she said.
While Cody remains focused on his new business partnership, he didn't rule out the possibility of one day opening a recreational storefront as well. Recreational marijuana dispensaries are slated to open statewide on Jan. 1, 2014, a day Cody believes could possibly be celebrated in the future as the draw-down date for the war on drugs.
He made a prediction: "I think if marijuana was legally available nationwide, the drug cartels would disappear naturally."