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B.C. marijuana sellers may still cash in after U.S. votes

A medical marijuana rolls a joint of BC bud in Vancouver November 8, 2012.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

British Columbia's multibillion-dollar marijuana industry is expected to take a hit following legalization votes in two U.S. states – but there could still be time to cash in.

A B.C. man who sells marijuana seeds to U.S. customers says Washington state and Colorado could see a spike in demand in the short term. Even though the two states voted to decriminalize marijuana, licensed stores won't open for at least a year. That creates a scenario in which marijuana is legal but there is nowhere to legally purchase it.

A spokeswoman for New Approach Washington, the group behind that state's Initiative 502, says she does not anticipate such a surge in seeds or other forms of marijuana.

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The B.C. man – who asked not to be identified due to the nature of his work – has been operating his business for more than a decade. In a series of e-mails, he told The Globe and Mail he was inspired by Canada's self-proclaimed "Prince of Pot," Marc Emery, though he never wanted such a high profile himself.

The man – a proud father who said the work suits his lifestyle – said he has received a great deal of business from Washington and Colorado in the past, though he declined to discuss specific figures. He said that while he has noticed increasing traffic since the state referendums, it's too early to tell whether there's a connection.

His business is largely a one-man operation, though he has a handful of people who help him out with various duties. He said the business is more lucrative now than when he started.

"I'm still pretty cautious and careful not to get too greedy," he said.

Washington and Colorado last week became the first U.S. states to vote to decriminalize, regulate and tax marijuana. Both states will allow adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce.

Washington will formally decriminalize it Dec. 6. The Seattle Police Department has already stopped making possession arrests, and the King County prosecutor's service has announced it will dismiss all 175 of its misdemeanour marijuana possession cases.

A spokesman for the Colorado marijuana campaign said it's unclear exactly when that state will decriminalize. He said election results are typically certified within two weeks – the governor then has 30 days to sign the amendment into law.

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Tonia Winchester, a spokeswoman for New Approach Washington, said an increase in marijuana being sent to the state is unlikely.

"Where people are going to be getting their marijuana in that year interim is where they're getting their marijuana now," she said. "There's a very profitable and highly functioning black market in Washington state where people are getting that marijuana."

Detective Reneé Witt, a Seattle police spokeswoman, said the department is still working through the logistics of Initiative 502. When asked if the department anticipates the marijuana market will grow before licensed stores open – in late 2013 or early 2014 – she said it's unclear.

"Honestly, we don't know. There are so many different aspects and things for us to take under consideration," she said.

When asked if residents who previously didn't purchase marijuana might grow bolder once it's decriminalized, she said, "This is true."

John Conroy, an Abbotsford, B.C.-based lawyer who has worked on numerous drug cases, said it is, of course, unlawful to ship marijuana seeds across the border. However, he said, cracking down on such businesses does not appear to be a high priority.

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A notable exception, he said, was Mr. Emery. He pleaded guilty in a Seattle court in 2010 to one count of conspiracy to manufacture marijuana.

"They seem to be quite open and out front many of them, certainly on the Internet and magazines and whatever," Mr. Conroy said of seed sellers. "You never know in this business. Sometimes they are tracking you for years, gathering evidence, and then finally they swoop down and do things."

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Based in Vancouver, Sunny has been with The Globe and Mail since November, 2010. More

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