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Prison-To-Pot-Farm Plan Met With Skepticism In Rural Colorado

Greg Campbell
Contributor

A no-brainer plan to convert an abandoned women’s prison into Colorado’s first industrial-scale “marijuana factory” has one major hurdle — the rural town where it’s located has imposed a moratorium on all pot businesses.

And while the town council of tiny Brush, Colo., is open to reconsidering the ban, some still need to be convinced that the economic benefits of a large pot-growing operation are worth changing course.

For entrepreneur Nicholas Erker, the plan has obvious benefits. For one thing, it’s hard to imagine a more secure facility in which to grow marijuana than a former prison, which is still ringed with chain-link fences and barbed wire. Erker bought the facility, which closed in 2010, for $150,000 and held an open house last weekend to try to persuade his critics.

“Thirty one jobs, half a million dollars in taxes just to start with, not to mention there’s a lot more opportunities for us at this facility,” he told Denver’s 7News.

When Colorado legalized marijuana in 2012, the new law also allowed local governments to restrict marijuana businesses from their jurisdictions. Brush — a conservative, recently-named All American City which uses an exclamation point after its name — is located on Colorado’s eastern plains and is centered in an area where most of the surrounding communities have also just said no to retail pot stores. Only one nearby town, the one-acre-square enclave of Garden City, in neighboring Weld County, allows pot shops.

But Erker is campaigning full bore for the town to lift the moratorium. After a public meeting scheduled for Monday, the town may decide to refer the question to voters in November.

Erker has even recruited former Denver Bronco Joel Dreesen to lobby the town.

“I want to offer my support to Nick and the City of Brush!” he wrote in a letter of support reported by the news site Westword. “I certainly think it is a great opportunity to produce jobs and revenue for the city. As a kid who grew up in a small town and loves to see Morgan County thrive, I like this opportunity. The voters of the State of Colorado have already determined marijuana to be a legal business. Nick is a great leader and I certainly hope the City of Brush! takes this opportunity to pioneer a brand new industry.”

June was Colorado’s best month so far in terms of marijuana sales, recording $24.7 million in total sales. The state has collected $29.8 million in taxes since retail sales began in January.

Despite what could be a windfall for the town of just over 5,000 people, the prison-to-pot-farm plan may still have an uphill battle. Brush City Councilwoman Jeanine Anderson told Denver’s 7News she still needs to be convinced it’s a good idea.

“I don’t think that a large pot growing facility is a wise use of our water resources,” she said.

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