MSNBC aims high with “Pot Barons of Colorado” series

Exec producers Gary Cohen and Scott Hooker talk to realscreen about Pot Barons of Colorado (pictured), MSNBC's six-part doc series examining the U.S. state's legalization of recreational marijuana.
November 7, 2014

U.S. net MSNBC has commissioned Pot Barons of Colorado, a six-part documentary on the explosive commercial retail development of selling recreational marijuana.

The 6 x 60-minute series, produced by MSNBC’s Longform Unit, Triple Threat TV and 44 Blue Productions, focuses on a handful of marijuana dispensary owners and entrepreneurs who hit the ground running when Colorado legalized marijuana, which paved the way for them opening their dispensaries on January 1, 2014.

MSNBC senior executive producer Scott Hooker tells realscreen that he’d been considering doing something on the subject since 2013.

“I’d been thinking about it for awhile, how voters in Colorado had passed recreational marijuana, that it would be this rather chaotic new world come January 1,” Hooker said. “So we hatched the idea back in mid-winter and I’m really pleased we went into the field. We’ve been shooting for a year and these shows are coming out in an interesting way.”

Triple Threat’s Gary Cohen – the exec producer, writer and narrator of Pot Barons of Colorado - said it was important for his team, which had four or five cameras shooting daily, to try and get out in front of the story.

“From the beginning, the thing that Scott and I totally understood is, the story is hot, it’s going to continue to grow, but we want to be the first to market and we want to be there because history is being made and we want the cameras to see it, while it’s an unprecedented situation,” Cohen told realscreen.

Cohen said one of the dilemmas of the business is that although recreational marijuana use is now legal in Colorado, the federal government still views it as illegal, and the Fed-controlled banks “can’t do business with marijuana companies because they’re exposing themselves to fines for money laundering, so all of these companies that average $10 million to $15 million worth of business a year, deal primarily in cash.”

He says the ensemble of entrepreneurs the team has assembled to “take you inside the world – and it’s an unprecedented world” offer a fascinating look at a budding industry that is expanding at an accelerating pace.

“Literally, a year ago, there was no such thing as legal marijuana sales in the United States on a recreational basis,’ Cohen tells realscreen. “Today, Denver is the marijuana capital of the world.

“There are more marijuana dispensaries in Denver then there are Starbucks, than there are liquor stores, public schools, pharmacies. It’s kind of crazy, the stories, and we’ve been there. We’ve watched this happen where new stores would open every day, and it’s thrilling.”

With Oregon, Alaska and Washington DC also having legalized recreational pot use on November 4, Cohen expects both the recreational and edible marijuana industries to generate plenty of stories out of the gate.

Pot Barons of Colorado premieres during U.S. Thanksgiving weekend on November 30 at 10 p.m. EST,  and will run for six consecutive Sunday nights. MNSBC will also show a sneak peek on Friday, November 28 at midnight.

MSNBC’s Michael Rubin serves as VP, Vicki Sufian is senior producer, and Carrie Wysocki is production director. For Triple Threat, Niki Usbay McDonald serves as director, while Matt McDonald fills the role of senior producer. Rasha Drachkovitch is co-executive producer on behalf of 44 Blue Productions.

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