Voice of the Modern Manufacturing Economy Since 2013

Catalyzed by cannabis: Green-trification spreads from Denver to the California desert

By Eric Peterson September 11, 2018, 02:42 pm MDT

Pockmarked by potholes and and vacant storefronts, South Broadway had seen better days when I bought my old house in south Denver in 2003. Beyond Antique Row, the urban fabric was fraying. There were plenty of used car lots, check-cashing places, and liquor stores, but little else.

But then medical marijuana shops started opening in 2009, followed by recreational marijuana in 2013. Once-empty storefronts, car lots, and duplexes along the two-mile stretch of Broadway south of I-25 were repurposed as dispensaries. Warehouses and industrial facilities on the side streets became grow houses.

It soon was known as the Green Mile. As of 2018, there are about 20 dispensaries within a mile of my house.

It's not just pot shops. The local economy has boomed. In 2013, there were no craft breweries on the Green Mile. Now there are four, plus Declaration Brewing just three blocks west on Cherokee Street. Add a pair of distilleries, new residential on formerly substandard sites, restaurants, bakeries, shops, galleries and art spaces, new offices, and improved infrastructure -- the neighborhood is almost unrecognizable to someone who last saw it a decade ago.

With suburbs to the south and the hip neighborhoods to the north, perhaps it was inevitable, but the passage of Amendments 20 and 64 definitely sped things up. It's urban revitalization and economic development of a different kind, primed by the confluence of legal marijuana and a surplus of cheap retail space with easy access to a light industrial area.

And it's spreading, with or without the help of traditional banking.

About 900 miles southwest of South Broadway, Pat Haight, an old friend of mine and a sound engineer, has lived in Desert Hot Springs, California, since 2013. In the last year, he has seen more than a dozen marijuana grow and manufacturing facilities break ground south of his house, with more on the way.

It's a familiar story. There were numerous vacant parcels and underutilized structures in an area zoned for light industrial uses, along with local leaders welcoming cannabis with open arms. The combination has fostered an economic boom. Land prices have skyrocketed, new businesses have opened, and jobs have been created. "Almost every week, they're starting development on another project," says Haight. "Hundreds of guys are out there working every day."

He says legal marijuana has accomplished what previous economic development initiatives have not. "I've seen improvement in Desert Hot Springs since I've lived here, but I've seen the most improvement in the past year."

Haight says the city has something of a reputation for high crime and a stagnant economy, but that's not necessarily the reality, at least not anymore. "All the activity coming into the town has been good for it," he says. "They're starting to work out the kinks [in the legal cannabis supply chain]. Once they get those worked out, Desert Hot Springs could be one of the pot meccas of California, out here in the desert. It could be what turns its fortunes around."

Eric Peterson is editor of CompanyWeek. Reach him at rambleusa@gmail.com.

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