A Tiny California Town May Become The Eco-Friendly ‘Epcot Of Cannabis’

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Previously known for its record-breaking lottery sales and solar power hub, the town of Nipton is now on track to become a singular haven for all things green.

After spending a few years on the market with an asking price of $5 million, the unincorporated township of Nipton, CA has finally found a new owner in cannabis technology company American Green. Comprising 80 acres of land (plus another 40 that house solar facilities), a trailer park, a small hotel, and a couple of stores, the town will soon be transformed into a major center for cannabis production, commerce, innovation, and education, according to the company.

Stephen Shearin, consultant to American Green and general manager of the Nipton project, explained in a phone interview earlier this week that the company aims to develop its hub in keeping with the vision put forth by Gerald Freeman, who set out to create an environmentally self-sufficient enclave there away from Los Angeles’ consumer bustle over three decades ago. Thanks to Freeman’s efforts, Nipton’s nearby Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System now produces around half of the electricity needed to run its hotel, general store, and once best-selling location for lottery tickets, and to support the few dozen residents and visitors it might have at any time.

“[Freeman] was working on alternative and experimental energy sources following the 1970s gas crunch,” Shearin said, “and he was far enough ahead of time to move out there and try to build a sustainable community away from the urban sprawl, which most of us are just coming around to now.”

Because of the layout of the property (and its ample wide-open spaces), the new owners will also have the chance to update and expand on Freeman’s methods for conserving resources in the desert town. Shearin said that, while the project is still in its infancy, the company hopes to manage the water from Nipton’s own aquifer for cannabis production and guest use by incorporating the property’s naturally inclined desert sands, which can supplement whatever external filtration systems they bring in.

When it comes to encouraging guests not to be too wasteful with their water use, Shearin said, “We’re not going to be Draconian about it, and say you only get to take a 30-second shower even though you went mountain biking all morning, but we want to find a balance between being hospitable and showing people how to use these resources.”

In this Aug. 13, 2014 file photo, mirrors reflect sunlight onto a power tower at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System at Nipton, Calif. on the Nevada border. The site uses over 300,000 mirrors to focus sunlight on boilers’ tubes atop 450-foot power towers heating water into steam, which in turn drives turbines to create electricity. (Credit: AP Photo/John Locher)

Referring to the popular hot spot down the highway that’s accounted for much of Nipton’s traffic through the years, Shearin added, “Not to denigrate Las Vegas at all, but it’s kind of the opposite [culture]of what we want to create. Just down the road, you can flush the toilet three times because a single hair fell in it and nobody will mind, but here, we want to take the opportunity to teach people how to recycle and conserve, and show what can be achieved through thoughtful planning.”

Depending on the project’s next steps, American Green may also choose to build out the Ivanpah solar collective at its current location and connect to it there, or to start adding towers closer to home. “We want to increase and modernize the solar collective there, which was installed over 10 years ago, as there have been lots of changes in the technology since then, and we want to take advantage of it, possibly increasing the output over time.”

“The output to the town is a great a value, and supports our stated goal of self-sufficiency,” Shearin said. “It also allows people to see this technology in action; I don’t think most people have walked past [solar towers]before.”

“There are three that visitors can see now from [Nipton’s] perma-tents, maybe they’re Google’s,” he said. “When you’re out there, it looks like Star Wars.”

 

Shearin noted that the company doesn’t want to divert tourism from any nearby towns that rely on it, nor to pack in thousands of news visitors each day, but to offer a new and unique stopping point along the route that connects two of the region’s biggest highways. When visitors do drop by, perhaps on their way to Laughlin or Searchlight, Nevada, or scenic Bullhead City, the idea is to offer them an enjoyable, educational, and comprehensive “cannabis experience,” Shearin said, whether that’s by having a meal, getting expert instruction on cannabis for yoga (or pain, or recreation, or home cultivation), or by touring technology that’s actively in use.

It’s because of this planned mix of practical, research, education, and hospitality-based offerings that Shearin has compared the future site to Disney’s Epcot, originally named to mean Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, rather than comparing it “the [other theme park]across the street.” Shearin explained, “We want people to understand that this is a serious venture, with thoughtful business and community planning behind it, and not a fantasy or party zone.”

“We’re really excited about utilizing the property to have working and [visitor]operations where people can experience the history and natural opportunities of the area while having a positive experience with cannabis and getting a look behind the curtain at how these things happen,” he said. “It would also show other locales how cannabis roll-out can be when it’s thoughtful, and how the provision of cannabis-friendly spaces can help people understand and participate in this economy and culture.”

Ken Lund

Signs alert passers-by to the presence of Nipton and its highway offerings on the California-Nevada border. (Credit: Ken Lund CC BY-SA via Flickr)

Shearin said he and his team are dedicated to providing regional revitalization around the town, and not just serving their own project’s aims. “We’ll be inviting people in, and generating commerce, and generating the auxiliary businesses to support these people, demonstrating what can be done for communities through focus and a well thought-through plan.”

According to Shearin, that includes honoring the “420 warriors” who have fought to legalize and innovate the industry in the past decades beyond paying homage to them in the town’s educational programs.

“We’ve always been supporters of [these individuals],” Shearin said. “Making jobs available to people who have criminal records as a result of work in cannabis, providing support to them as sort of a latent benefit, and demonstrating to communities that people vilified in the past are bringing huge benefits to their communities now–and being overt about it when applicable–is certainly of interest.”

He continued, “We’re certainly indebted to efforts that have gone on, and want to build on those efforts toward something that likely seemed impossible to people who were hurt 50 years ago [by cannabis prohibition], or 10 years ago, or yesterday. We’re also still seeing cannabis refugees, or patients and workers who have to leave because of legal pressure.”

 

Shearin said the company may also consider having facilities where patients can receive cannabis-based treatment, whether in the oft-approved case of adult and childhood seizures, or even for breaking drug addiction in the desert. “Possibly having a facility there where people can wean themselves off of opioids in a professionally administered setting would fit our skill set,” he said.

Providing such programs would serve to recognize the work of those who came before American Green in the cannabis field, Shearin said. “We want to offer the best of what they’ve created in excellent medicine and products for adult use, as well as education for those who want to dig deeper.”

“We want to help people learn, what exactly is sativa, what is indica, what is a cannabinoid profile? Can you mix types?” he continued. “Yes, you can, but most people don’t know that.”

Ken Lund

A solar energy tower looms over the desert in Nipton, CA. (Credit: Ken Lund CC BY-SA via Flickr)

 

Shearin said the company plans to develop a careful site plan over the next two months, and has already started considering where its commercial, residential, and other facilities will land. Depending on what federal, California, and Sen Bernardino laws will allow in the coming months and years, the company also hopes to soon involve other companies and affiliates that want to participate in the community or take advantage of its setup for their production and sales.

While plans and laws continue to evolve, however, the company expects to keeps its own production efforts focused on cannabidiol or CBD, the most legally permissible and evidently therapeutic of cannabis chemicals (and a non-psychoactive one), through at least the end of this year. According to a company press release, “the project will focus first on the production of CBD water which will be distributed in California only to start.”

But assuming the greenery will sooner or later start to bloom in this part of the desert (and it will, eventually nationwide), the careful planning and innovative programs in store for the new Nipton already make it sound like a great place to visit, awesome-sounding Star Wars vistas notwithstanding; depending on a person’s big city ties and ability to work remotely, one could easily imagine wanting to live there, too.

Janet Burns covers tech, culture, and other fun stuff from Brooklyn, NY. She also hosts the cannabis news podcast The Toke.

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