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‘Green rush’ stalled in tiny Nipton?

Welcome to Nipton, a tiny California town in the Mojave Desert. (Photo: Screen capture, CNN)

It appears that a company’s plans to turn a remote San Bernardino County town into a marijuana tourism mecca may go up in smoke.

Earlier this month, Arizona-based American Green announced it purchased the entire California town of Nipton for about $5 million to make it a hub of cannabis production mixed with bed-and-breakfast lodging and attractions like mineral baths.

“People think San Bernardino County is the Wild West and they can do what they want.” — Lt. Sarkis Ohannessian

The problem is that a county ordinance for unincorporated areas, including Nipton, bars all sales, distribution and production of cannabis, overriding the state’s recent move to legalize recreational marijuana.

Stephen Shearin, the project manager, said he is aware of the county law but he thinks something can be worked out. “That doesn’t mean this is not going to happen,” he said. “We’re concerned about it but not anxious.”

Lt. Sarkis Ohannessian of the San Bernardino County Sherriff’s Department, has a different view. He said the county counsel’s office sent American Green a letter on Aug. 9 six days after the announcement of the sale informing the company of the law and saying that it would address any violations with administrative citations and criminal enforcement if needed.

“This is not the first time this has happened,” he said. “People think San Bernardino County is the Wild West and they can do what they want.”

American Green wants to continue Freeman’s dream by eventually making Nipton completely energy independent by expanding the existing solar farm.

The only two towns in the county that allow marijuana cultivation are Needles and Adelanto. But even there, the federal government can step in at any time and dismantle grows if they choose because marijuana is illegal under federal government, Ohannessian said.

Located close to the Nevada border about an hour’s drive from Las Vegas, Nipton has only about 20 residents and includes a general store, a hotel, a school building. By the 1980s, the land was purchased by Gerald Freeman, who added solar power and worked hard to make it as energy efficient as possible. After Freeman died, his widow Roxanne Lang put the town up for sale last year.

American Green wants to continue Freeman’s dream by eventually making Nipton completely energy independent by expanding the existing solar farm.

In a press release, the company said the first step of development would be bottling water from a nearby aquifer and infusing it with CBD, a cannabis compound that can offer relief from pain, inflammation and other ailments without making people feel stoned.  American Green also wanted to bring in companies that make edibles.

The company looked at criteria that included general political climate, attractiveness and developmental opportunity.

“We are excited to lead the charge for a true ‘Green Rush,’” said the company’s chairman and president, David Gwyther, in the statement. “The Cannabis Revolution that’s going on here in the US has the power to completely revitalize communities in the same way gold did during the 19th century.”

The vision is to draw people to make the 10-minute drive off Highway 15 to enjoy a marijuana-friendly atmosphere. “The point isn’t to come here and get stoned,” explained Shearin. “The point is, if you’re a stoner, you feel you can walk the property and feel comfortable. It’s about hospitality.”

American Green had been looking for a place to develop into a marijuana tourism destination for a while, Shearin said. The company looked at criteria that included general political climate, attractiveness and developmental opportunity.

The county ban on marijuana production is to prevent cannabis growers from “willy nilly popping up” all over

Colin Strange, the director of business resources at the San Bernardino Area Chamber of Commerce, said the county at large has a conservative culture and may not be welcoming of the project.

He wondered how the company will develop enough activities and infrastructure to handle the throngs of visitors they want. He also wondered how they will deal with trouble that might arise, like offering medical attention for overdoses or heat strokes. “They’re miles from nowhere,” he said.

Shearin is working out all the details and won’t invite more people in then it can support. He said people are drawing up designs and plans for these questions now.

He believes the reason for the county ban on marijuana production is to prevent cannabis growers from “willy nilly popping up” all over. He thinks the county will ultimately be friendly to his venture because it will generate revenue and benefit residents.

“We can’t grow cannabis there under that strict reading under that statute,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean it will never happen or never happen soon.”


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