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Former Western New Yorkers lead lives touched by legal pot

John Lodico has the Dec. 7 Denver Broncos-Buffalo Bills game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High stadium circled on his calendar.

He figures it’ll be an easy sell for the clientele he seeks for that weekend at his new lodging in the Mile High City: those from Western New York who want to travel to Denver and take in legalized pot along with their football.

“To emphasize the instructional aspect, we have included classes and a dispensary tour as part of the entire package price to go along with a complementary micro-brew tour. This way we leave it in our guest’s hands to do as much, or as little as they want, while they enjoy their time,” said Lodico, a SUNY Fredonia State graduate who returns to the Buffalo area regularly to visit a sister in Forestville and recently opened Johnny Lo’s Medx in his two-story digs in Denver.

He wanted to name the place J-Lo’s B&B, using his nickname, but things got complicated. His effort is now considered a “part-time instructional retreat” under city zoning laws.

“This emphasizes the new instructional format, in that Medx is short for ‘marijuana education destination excape,’ ” he said. “And using ‘Johnny Lo’s’ distances us from Jennifer Lopez. We were getting weighed down with a lot of her sites when we were doing Internet searches for my place under the original name.”

Lodico has created a new website,, to tout the business, which caters to travelers from across the globe who want a knowledgeable guide for the local arts, food, nightlife and legal marijuana scenes.

Lodico welcomes guests to his new business with homemade sausage sandwiches and Red Stripe beer. He offers an all-inclusive package for four to eight visitors at a time to stay from Thursday to Sunday. In addition to Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, craft beer and gourmet food prepared in his kitchen, guests can discreetly enjoy up to 10 samples of marijuana.

“I think we’ve got a niche here,” Lodico said. “The marijuana scene is just part of what we’re doing here. That’s what I want to emphasize.”

He is among Buffalo expats who have had a front-row seat to the introduction of legal recreational marijuana sales in Colorado and the medical marijuana sales that preceded it. Two Buffalo News reporters who visited Denver earlier this year for an Association of Health Care Journalists conference talked with several of them before, during and after the conference for today’s package on legalized marijuana in Colorado.

The legal pot experiment also has drawn the attention of a former Amherst cop, who now lives in the Seattle area, where recreational marijuana became legal last month. He works on the other side of the pot trade these days.

Here’s what several of those interviewed had to say:

Steffany Hayes Ayala is a certified public accountant who works on a contract basis for companies that aren’t big enough to need their own accounting department. The 30-year-old Amherst native, who now lives outside Denver, interviewed with a company that manufactures, distributes and sells cannabis edibles and has facilities in Denver, California and Washington State. Ayala said she was cautious about taking a job with the company.

“None of us want to lose our license over this, since it’s new territory,” said Ayala, who voted yes on the recreational marijuana referendum in late 2012 that legalized recreational marijuana but doesn’t use the drug herself.

The position was posted on Craigslist, and would have started in January, when recreational marijuana became legal in Colorado. It would have involved handling tens of thousands of dollars in cash at a time, because federal financial regulations limit marijuana businesses’ ability to process credit transactions.

She decided to steer clear of the job.

“I’m just not ready to until the industry settles down a little more,” Ayala said. “I don’t know if a future employer is going to look down on it.”

She talked about the job with her husband and her daughter, who is 10. Ayala’s husband was fine with it – “He thought it was cool” – but her daughter was less pleased.

“She was embarrassed. She was like, ‘I don’t want you doing that,’ ” Ayala said, adding, “I live in a nice suburb. I don’t know that’s how I want to be labeled.”

Sharon Schutz, 47, a Cheektowaga native and accountant who lives in Evergreen, Colo., voted no on the recreational marijuana referendum. She said the new law tarnishes the state’s image.

“One of the concerns I have is how do you monitor people who are smoking and driving? There’s no good way to detect it now,” Schutz said.

The ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana passed easily in Colorado, by 55 percent to 45 percent, following a carefully calibrated, well-funded campaign that was years in the making. The pro-legalization side spent $2.3 million on TV ads, voter-turnout efforts and other campaign needs.

• “Everything they said about it makes sense. They did a really great campaign. ‘Instead of giving all of the money to Mexican drug lords, let’s give it to our schools,’ ” said Terry Heyden, 47, a Town of Tonawanda native, who now lives in Colorado and works in sales for a company that sells hotel furniture, fixtures and equipment.

“The medical marijuana was a great baby step for Colorado,” said Watson Cornell, a Buffalo native who works as director of operations for Lodo’s Bar and Grill, the home of the Colorado Bills Backers in Denver. Cornell occasionally has to gently remind patrons they can’t smoke, or consume, the marijuana they purchased at a dispensary down the street from his restaurant. Public consumption of the drug continues to be prohibited in the state.

John Dulap, 60, who got married at St. John Catholic Church in the City of Tonawanda in the early 1980s, volunteers at the Boulder tourism gazebo in that city’s pedestrian mall, almost 30 miles northwest of Denver.

The city has that same college-town feel as Ithaca, and many of its businesses tout buffalo on their signs, as that is the symbol for their University of Colorado sports teams.

A dozen people who wandered into the tourism gazebo during a week in the spring asked where they could buy pot. All but one was from out of state, Dulap said, and “11 of the 12 were over 55.”

Patrick Moen lives in the state of Washington, which legalized recreational marijuana last month and where the industry is nowhere near yet as advanced as it is in Colorado.

Moen used to arrest people for pot possession; now he’s part of the burgeoning marijuana trade. The Amherst native spent years as a criminal investigator and supervisor with the DEA, and prior to that was an Amherst police officer and Erie County sheriff’s deputy.

By 2013, he was looking for a new challenge. He said he saw the potential in the medical and recreational marijuana industry, and he thought there was a need for a level of professionalism that was absent from the illegal trade.

He got a job with Privateer Holdings, a private equity firm that invests in the cannabis industry. Privateer supports ancillary businesses and isn’t directly involved in pot production or distribution. Moen has drawn national attention, some critical, for shifting from one side of the drug business to the other, but said, “It wasn’t as hard as you would think. I saw it as a natural progression.”

Moen said he believes top federal officials have given their “implicit blessing” to the legalization experiment, but legal hurdles remain in force.

“It’s a thorny area of law – it’s complicated,” he said.

– Stephen T. Watson and Scott Scanlon