NIPTON, CA - Legal pot is popping up all around the country. Now, a Valley marijuana company is looking to cash in by buying an entire California town to build a pot paradise.
An hour outside Las Vegas there’s a dusty spot in the Mohave Desert called Nipton. More than 100 years ago, the railroad brought gold and cattle through the tiny town. In recent years, lotto fever from Nevada border residents (Nevada doesn’t have Powerball or Mega Millions) fuels the minute economy.
Soon, there will be a new cash crop in Nipton - a green rush.
Depending on the day and who you ask, Nipton is home to somewhere between six and 16 people. And for the past eight years, Jim Eslinger has been the unofficial mayor.
“Come on out to where it's normal,” cackled Eslinger from behind his cash register at the Nipton Trading Post. “I think that's one of the reasons I like it out here; the peace, the solitude.”
Time almost stands still in Nipton and Eslinger has long gray hair and a beard that suggests he hasn’t changed much since the 70s. He runs the old trading post and Hotel Nipton. The small hotel has five rooms and several eco-cabins. Eslinger also serves as the entertainment and comic relief for weary travelers.
“When the lotto gets big and there are big lines and people are just rush, rush, rush, hurry, hurry, fast, fast…I look at them and say, ‘Hey, you’re in my town on my time. If I want to step outside and have a cigarette and I’m not back in 10 minutes - just wait longer," said Eslinger, cackling again.
But these days people are more likely to ask Eslinger about Nipton’s future in marijuana.
“To be the, I wanna say pot capital of the whole world or something like that, it'll be interesting; this year will be full of changes if this happens,” said Eslinger. “Out here you're only limited by your imagination.”
The entire town of Nipton is privately owned. There’s 80 acres of land, a small solar farm, a couple houses and some broken down buildings. Recently, the whole works sold for $5 million to Phoenix-based marijuana company American Green.
“You can stay, blaze and gaze at the amazing stars without bothering somebody else,” said Stephen Shearin, Nipton's project manager for American Green. “You won't have to run back behind some dugout or trailer and feel like a criminal."
American Green’s vision has been called "pot paradise," "marijuana Disney," and "cannabis capital U.S.A.", but American Green doesn’t actually grow or sell marijuana - just pot-related products.
“American Green is a publicly traded company and won't be trying to manufacture cannabis products in violation of federal law,” said Shearin.
In Nipton, they’ll simply build the infrastructure for local weed businesses to move in when California’s recreational marijuana law takes effect in 2018. In addition, Shearin said he envisions more places to stay, more entertainment and eco-tourism.
“This is not a pot town," Shearin said. "This is a city that's being revitalized by embracing cannabis culture."
But not everybody's rolling with the plan. Marijuana investment expert Alan Brochstein said American Green can buy the town but won’t likely be able to grow any profits.
“I've been following American Green for over four years and their financial condition is actually pretty dire,” said Brochstein, a Houston based chartered financial analyst and owner of 420investor.com.
American Green is traded on the penny stocks with 14 billion outstanding shares. The company has less than $200,000 cash on hand according to recent financial filings.
In addition to its weak financial position, Brochstein said other companies have tried and failed to create a pot paradise.
“There was one (in Colorado) that had something called a “bud and breakfast” and it was an epic fail as well, so I expect that will be the case here,” said Brochstein. “This strikes me as kind of a Hail Mary by the company to try to stimulate some interest.”
It has certainly done that. Pot paradise already has prospective new investors ready to rent and re-open the Nipton Cafe.
“This is smart; get in on the ground floor before everything starts, get established,” said Michael Petitta, a Vegas chef hoping to become Nipton’s newest restaurateur.
The town's people seem to be on board too - so long as Nipton doesn't lose its charm.
“Oh, it's not going to be Hong Kong or anything like that,” said Carl Cavaness, Nipton resident for several months. His wife Laura cleans rooms at the Hotel Nipton.
“I'm excited and scared at the same time,” said Eslinger. "But I've got a motor home so if I don't like what American Green is doing to the town I can just head on down the road.”
That dusty two-lane road leads to an uncertain future. The green rush could rival Nipton’s founding in the Gold Rush or leave Nipton the near ghost town it’s always been.