(CBS NEWS) You could forgive the organizers of the CannaSearch event in Denver for appearing a bit shell-shocked, if elated, on Thursday, when they looked at the turn-out for what is believed to be the nation's first-ever marijuana industry job fair.
Tim Cullen, a marijuana entrepreneur who co-owns two cannabis shops in Colorado and is a founding partner of the group hosting CannaSearch, stared at the estimated 1,200 people waiting in line, in blustery weather, outside his company's offices.
"People started showing up about 6 a.m. this morning, for the doors opening at 11 a.m.," he said. "The line is longer than a block now."
Inside, representatives from 15 marijuana-related companies were meeting with job-seekers and struggling to be heard above the din.
"It's been great,"said Pete Vasquez, general manager of Medicine Man, a medicinal and recreational marijuana dispensary in Denver. "We've had hundreds of people stop by the booth. I have stacks of resumes right here in front of me, lots of cards given out. I'm sure we're going to find a great bunch of people to add to our company."
Shannon Foreman, owner of Hemp Temps, a marijuana industry staffing agency, found the response to the job fair nearly overwhelming, but very welcome. "We fill [positions] based on what the need is," she said. "Right now the need is outrageous, and we're trying to fill that."
Twenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized the sale of marijuana for medicinal use. As of January 1, the sale of recreational cannabis to adults also became legal in Colorado and Washington state.
Those changes have not only brought the marijuana industry out of the shadows, but also sparked an industrywide need for employees, from entry-level "budtenders" to CPAs and bookkeepers.
Back outside, and on a line that stretched around the corner and down a city block, people from all over the country were talking about their plans for working in the cannabis industry.
Nelson Lopez, 21, of Bellville, Texas, had decided at the last minute to make the 14-hour drive to Denver with his sister and a family friend. "I'm looking for an entry-level position," he said, "but it's just being here. It's the first job fair ever for cannabis."
Jack Valin, 27, and dressed for business in a suit and tie, moved to Denver over the weekend from Chicago, where he spent the last six months trying to find work.
"I have a hospitality degree, so I've been looking in the hotels, casinos, sales positions," he said. "I'm just looking all over."
Valin said he's not sure what kind of job he expects to find in the cannabis trade. "It's more about just coming out here," he said, "getting my name, using what credentials I've got from working in a cash-based industry in Chicago... to get my foot in the door somewhere, at least."
Others waiting on line had more specific goals. Missouri native Toni Chambers, who lives outside of Kansas City, wants to work in cannabis-related healthcare. "I believe in the medical use of this, very much," she said.
Chambers worked in California for several years as an in-home caretaker, and says she's seen the positive benefits of marijuana for patients with a variety of ailments. "I want to be able to take care of people that believe in this, and even people that don't -- that think that it's a problem, that it's a drug -- and show them that it's not," she said.
Chambers, married and a mother of two young children, says her family is planning on moving to Colorado in the next several months.
For his part, Tim Cullen believes the tepid economic recovery has played a role in the success of CannaSearch. "But I also think it's a new frontier," he added, noting that his group is already scheduling their next job fair. "Cannabis legalization in Colorado has gotten a lot of news, and there are people who are willing to relocate and come to Colorado to be a part of this."
By Bruce Kennedy, CBS Moneywatch
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