US Town bought by marijuana company on way to becoming pot mecca

18:26  14 november  2017
18:26  14 november  2017 Source:   USA TODAY

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NIPTON, Calif. — A cannabis company’s audacious plan to turn this remote settlement into a marijuana mecca is taking shape.

New signs mark the town’s borders on the one road in. Fresh gravel lies in the parking lot outside the tiny store. And workers are installing a small pond, the first of many envisioned for the site.

American Green, which bought the town and surrounding land for $5 million this summer, has also renovated the small café and has big plans to dramatically expand lodging options, which today consist of scattered RVs, a few canvas tents and a handful of hotel rooms.

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The only thing missing right now is the marijuana.

“You guys have the marijuana here?” called out Toby Armstrong, 62, as she pulled up to the Nipton Store recently. “I heard about you on the news.”

Unfortunately for Armstrong, for the next few months there’s no legal recreational marijuana for sale in Nipton or anywhere else in California. People with medical marijuana cards can get pot from a dispensary, but Nipton doesn’t have any of those either.

Armstrong, who had been staying about an hour’s drive away in Las Vegas, drove to Nipton after hearing news reports about American Green’s plans. A retired long-haul truck driver, Armstrong says she hasn’t tried marijuana for decades — truckers are subject to random drug tests — but is curious now that it’s more widely acceptable and her body is broken down from long hours behind the wheel.

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Armstrong said she doesn’t trust drug companies and thought maybe a little pot could help her old bones as she drives the country in her conversion van, looking for warm weather and new friends.

“I’m not interested in being stoned for the rest of my life, but I sure could use a little pain relief,” she said.

Smoking a cigarette outside the store, Nipton’s de facto mayor, Jim Eslinger, explained the company’s plans to Armstrong as orange-vested surveyors located underground utilities in preparation for expansion. The town's population has fluctuated between six and 16 residents, but has risen to 25 as American Green's purchase brought international attention.

The company wants to create a self-sustaining marijuana mecca where public pot smoking is welcome and entrepreneurs are encouraged, not saddled with regulations by skeptical government officials. Plans call for an outdoor smoking lounge and hookah bar, restaurants and a microbrewery, a “medical academy” and a wellness spa.

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Founded in 2009, American Green is one of the few publicly traded cannabis companies in the United States, and sells age-verifying marijuana vending machines and products made solely with non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD) extracts, which users say can provide pain relief without getting you high. One of the first Nipton-made products American Green hopes to offer is CBD-infused water from the town’s aquifer beneath the Mojave Desert.

The town is changing almost daily, said Stephen Shearin, who is managing the project for American Green.

“It’s really a combination of modernizing some things, returning other things to the way they were, and bringing in our own touches," he said.

Shearin said the company hopes to restore postal service and bring in a bank, along with supporting marijuana-related businesses like cultivators and glassblowers, in addition to hosting marijuana stores when they become legal next year.

“This isn’t an 80-ace development of condos. People have been living there for 130 years," he said "We’re evolving the town into the future.”

Eslinger, an eight-year resident who stumbled upon the area while helping a friend search for a mythical underground river of gold, said he always envisioned retiring to Amsterdam, where he could smoke a little marijuana for pain relief while watching the world go by. Instead, the retired trucker found his place amid the quiet of Nipton.

He said he’s not worried about the changes American Green is making because it fits largely with his own dream.

“Amsterdam was my idea of heaven, and it looks like it might be coming here to me, right in the middle of nowhere, “ he said. “So far, all American Green has done is put a smile on this town’s face.”

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