Nipton on track to be cannabis-friendly, energy-efficient community

Nipton, California, the tiny, historic town 10 miles south of Primm, was for sale for three years before being bought last year by a Phoenix-based company that promotes grass, and we’re not talking about the kind you have to nag your kids to mow.

American Green is a publicly traded company that facilitates the sale of marijuana through emerging technology, and it operates a cultivation facility in Phoenix. It is investing in the town’s infrastructure and plans on making it a model for cannabis-friendly communities while continuing to draw visitors and attracting new full-time residents.

Stephen Shearin, the town’s general manager and the former CEO of American Green, said Nipton won’t be developed as a marijuana farm, but its Old West charm will be cultivated to create a green destination.

Tourism always has been a big draw for Nipton, with visitors from faraway lands seeking to experience the Old West, as well as those from Southern Nevada seeking lottery tickets. And, now that recreational marijuana is legal in California, Shearin sees nothing but blue skies ahead, despite U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent decision to rescind the Obama administration’s policies that called for minimal federal interference.

“I think it will ultimately have a positive impact, because it’s such an outrageous statement, and ultimately it will force the conversation back to the surface. We’re creating cannabis refugees. Who forces that upon their citizens?”

The 80-acre village is over 100 years old and sits at the eastern entrance to The Mojave National Preserve. It has several buildings, a general store, café, five-room hotel, a recreational park and some small “EcoLodges” where visitors stay, some for long stretches of time. It is home to an estimated 30 to 40 full-time residents, and Shearin envisions a mix of even more long-term residents, if he can figure out where to put them.

American Green paid $5 million for Nipton, or about $75,000 per acre. “You can get other property in California for $500 an acre,” Shearin said, adding that San Bernardino County is the largest in the U.S. and is heavily vested in preventing illegal growing activity. “Nipton’s success doesn’t live or die on its ability to cultivate, any more than San Francisco needed to have a gold mine to grow as a center point of the gold rush.”

You can’t purchase marijuana at any of the American Green-owned entities in Nipton, including the café and store, because of federal restrictions that might negatively impact the company’s ability to trade stock. Shearin, however, said the company is open to the possibility of a licensed company opening a dispensary somewhere within the town limits.

Since the sale, American Green has refurbished the hotel with new hardwood floors and upgraded baths, serviced the septic system and is expanding the existing solar system with a goal of eventual energy-independence for Nipton, making it a model of energy-efficiency and environmentally responsible tourism.

The community’s only café will reopen under the new management of Munch &Co., which reportedly obtained the secret recipe for its popular hamburger.

Immediately after the sale, the company released a statement promising Nipton would become “the country’s first cannabis-friendly, energy-independent hospitality destination,” but that doesn’t exclude non-users, Shearin said. He stresses that Nipton welcomes both cannabis users and those who abstain.

”It doesn’t have anything to do with cannabis so much as respect,” he said. “By no means should the family of four, who wants to see historic Nipton and enjoy the high desert, feel as though they’d be uncomfortable in a town any more than anyone in a town should feel uncomfortable when somebody walks past and made an offhand comment about loser stoners. That has more to do with respect than laws.”

Shearin hasn’t limited American Green’s sights to the hospitality market. He says about one in four visitors who comes with the intent to stay actually does so, and the company is eager to cultivate long-term residents, including workers from local mines.

”We fully expect to acquire additional real estate to build additional housing to support hundreds, if not a couple thousand more people in the area, gainfully employed.”

He predicts a population of 2,000 residents eventually.

“I think between two and a half to five years you’ll see 2,000 people living and working and paying taxes in a vibrant economy.”

This is partly based on an existing housing need for workers at the nearby Mountain Pass Rare Earth Mine and the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System.

“We are seriously pressed for housing,” Shearin said. “Between the mine, the businesses we have going on and the interest in the town and the products we’re using and setting up, we’ve got 150 people we could be renting or selling to right now. It’s a good problem to have.”

Depending on timing, Shearin said “buying another town is at the top of the agenda. But we’re still putting together the instruction manual for how to acquire a town.”

Shearin has assembled a task force of experienced professionals, including Doug McLaughlin, a retired Long Beach building supervisor, consulting on engineering; and Angie Donahue, a commercial Realtor specialist in “gentrification and green remediation,” to create a blueprint for a private enterprise buying and then running a town.

”As we put in a town manager, we set up protocols for meetings and creating a functioning town, we’re taking meticulous notes so that when we acquire the next town, we’re doing it based on what we know, not guessing at,” Shearin said.

Colorado, which has had legal recreational marijuana for several years, is experiencing a “tiny hemp house movement,” and Shearin envisions the small homes fitting right into Nipton’s RV spaces. He is also enthusiastic about building residential housing made from recycled materials and Hempcrete, a bio-composite made of the inner woody core of the hemp plant mixed with a lime-based binder. It is used as insulation and weighs considerably less than concrete. It has been around for centuries and used all over the world.

Shearin speculates that within legal restrictions, they might offer educational, demonstration-type cannabis gardens.

“Folks have never been up close to that,” he said.

But don’t let him hear you speak of Nipton in terms of “development.” It will never resemble a master-planned community. “Nipton is a town that has been around for 130 years and needs to grow and evolve as a town, not as a development.”

He wants Nipton to reflect its rural, Western flavor and the character of the residents who have contributed to it “as opposed to making it ‘American Green Town.’ That’s not our intention at all, because if American Green goes away, it has to stand on its own.”

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