Growth industry? Suburban mom allegedly ran $3 million marijuana business. (+video)

A woman from upper-class Scarsdale, N.Y., is charged with growing pot in a Queens warehouse. That would be illegal, but it points to the possibilities of the legal marijuana industry as states legalize the drug.

By , Correspondent

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    This file photo shows a medical marijuana plant at a dispensary in Seattle. A woman in New York was charged Wednesday with running a marijuana-growing operation.
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A Scarsdale, N.Y., woman living in a neighborhood of million-dollar homes has been charged with running a $3 million illegal marijuana operation in what authorities say appears to be a real-life example of the Showtime show “Weeds.”

So far, little is known about the motivation of Andrea Sanderlin, the suburban mom accused by the Drug Enforcement Administration of growing more than 1,000 marijuana plants in a Queens warehouse. But her arrest comes at a time when the business of marijuana is evolving as states consider legalizing the drug. 

Despite marijuana still being illegal under federal law, a new breed of entrepreneurs is betting on marijuana as a legitimate business venture.

Recommended: How much do you know about marijuana? Take the quiz

A federal complaint against Ms. Sanderlin, the mother of two daughters age 3 and 13, was filed on May 20 after agents were tipped off by exceptionally high electricity bills. Special Agent David Lee of the DEA, who filed the complaint, says law-enforcement agents entered the warehouse using a search warrant and found two rooms designed to grow marijuana. He says each room had state-of-the-art lighting, irrigation, and ventilation systems.

Ms. Sanderlin pleaded not guilty to the charges and is being held in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn without bail. “She’s never been in trouble before,” her lawyer, Joel Winograd, told the New York Daily News. “It’s rare that you get a woman accused of running a grow house.” 

Sanderlin’s case has drawn wide comparisons to the hit Showtime series “Weeds” in the media. In that show, actress Mary-Louise Parker’s character was a suburban mom in charge of a major marijuana-growing operation.

Sanderlin's New York home is in one of the state’s posh neighborhoods. Reality sites show property values in her area between $1.2 million and $2.4 million, reports the International Business Times.

While Sanderlin is charged with activity that is clearly illegal – growing marijuana in a state where it remains banned – the arrest points to the potential for a legitimate pot industry as America slowly loosens marijuana regulation.

Voters  in Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana in November, and 18 states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes. Moreover, a Pew Research Center poll released in April showed 52 percent of Americans favor legalization – the first time that a majority of respondents had backed legalization since Pew began polling on the issue in 1969. 

These trends have led Ivy League MBAs and former Wall Street executives to conclude that there is legal money to be made in pot – now and in the future.

Two Yale MBA graduates profiled in USA Today in April started Pioneer Holdings, a Seattle private-equity fund that buys up smaller marijuana-related businesses. ArcView, an angel-investor network, specializes in connecting investors with cannibis-related businesses. And Mobile apps such as Leafly draw 2.3 million monthly visitors to review more than 500 strains of cannibis. 

Is pot a growth industry? Harvard University professor Jeffrey Miron, an economist who studies marijuana policy, says that, for now, the illegal side of the industry is still where the big money is.

“To the extent that there's money to be made, a lot of it is already being made'' by illegal operations, Miron told USA Today. "The notion that there will be new wealth is exaggerated.''

But legalization is shifting the industry. In May, National Public Radio spoke to one marijuana dealer, given the name “Chuck,” who moved from California to New York after the legalization of medical marijuana caused a flood of competition.

Since moving to New York, Chuck claims he’s quadrupled his income.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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