POT STOP

A cannabis startup is trying to buy an entire town in California

Updated | Nipton, California has all the makings of a stoner heaven. There’s a general store, a hotel, a campground, an endless supply of delicious water, and—for those late-night giggles—a Castle Butt Road.

Perhaps that’s why American Green Inc., an eight-year-old self-described marijuana “seed-to-sale innovator,” decided to purchase the 80-acre town (population six) and turn it into “the country’s first energy-independent, cannabis-friendly hospitality destination.”

The company has signed a binding agreement for Nipton, and is currently in escrow; a spokesperson for American Green says there are only a few minor details left to work out. In a statement announcing the sale, president David Gwyther said cannabis legalization in the US “has the power to completely revitalize communities in the same way gold did during the 19th century.”

“I talked to a half-dozen people that have the means to [buy Nipton], that each wanted to do it for different reasons,” says Tony Castrignano, owner of Sky Mesa Realty, who brokered the sale on behalf of the town’s previous owner, the Freeman family. “I joke that what makes Nipton unique is that it’s conveniently located in the middle of nowhere.”

Once the sale goes through, American Green plans to start with Nipton’s water: The town sits on a Pleistocene-era underground lake, and the company wants to bottle cannabis-infused H2O for distribution in California, where recreational marijuana became legal last year. American Green said it is also in talks with edible and extraction companies about setting up production facilities in Nipton. Eventually, the company plans to offer everything from cannabis mineral baths to artists-in-residence programs and cannabis culinary events. “The [idea] here isn’t to create ‘Woodstock 2017,'” Stephen Shearin, a consultant working with American Green on the Nipton project, told Business Insider. “It’s about creating an environment where people come to work and share in a community.”

Founded in 1905 as a cattle-rancher stop, Nipton had some success as a mining town in the 20th century, but was mostly deserted by the 21st. Hollywood-based geologist Gerald Freeman first visited Nipton in the 1950s; three decades later, he paid $200,000 to buy it outright. (“Los Angeles was becoming too costly and too crowded,” Freeman told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.) At the time, Nipton had just one resident, but Freeman had big plans: He wanted to make the town energy-independent.

Vehicles drive through field of heliostats (mirrors that track the sun and reflect the sunlight onto a central receiving point) at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert near the California-Nevada border February 13, 2014. The project, a partnership of NRG, BrightSource, Google and Bechtel, is the world's largest solar thermal facility and uses 347,000 sun-facing mirrors to produce 392 Megawatts of electricity, enough energy to power more than 140,000 homes.
A field of heliostats (mirrors that track the sun and reflect the sunlight onto a central receiving point) at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in Nipton. (Reuters/Steve Marcus)

Today, nearly half of Nipton’s power comes from the photovoltaic solar array Freeman installed in 2010 (he also once sold hats that said “Nipton, powered by the sun”). The town boasts a general store, hotel, campground, RV park, collection of “eco-friendly” lodges, and smattering of local businesses. Nipton does a decent tourism trade thanks to its location on the edge of the Mojave National Preserve. Visitors include roaming bikers and Old West enthusiasts from all over the world, and the town serves as the home base for the annual Mojave Death Race.

Freeman and his wife, Roxanne Lang, put Nipton up for sale in 2015, citing Freeman’s declining health and the onerous upkeep of the town. In January 2016, Freeman told the Review-Journal he wanted Nipton’s buyer to be “someone who’s committed to sustainability of the human race.” He died seven months later, at age 83.

If American Green’s purchase goes through, Nipton may have a variety of green in its future—US marijuana sales hit $6.7 billion last year—and Shearin already has designs on an Old West-themed dispensary called The Apothecary. But Freeman would be the first to scoff at anything too kitsch. In a 2011 interview with the Los Angeles Times, he threw shade on Calico, a town 100 miles west of Nipton where visitors can take ghost tours, pan for gold, or enjoy an old-timey photo shoot. “I decide the priorities around [Nipton], and those are to be a real community,” Freeman said. “Not a Disneyland with staged shootouts at high noon.”

No staged shootouts, check. But high noon may be in Nipton’s future after all.

This story has been updated to reflect the status of American Green’s deal for Nipton.

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