Small town, big marijuana business |

Small town, big marijuana business

— Before moving to Colorado, Nick Neidlein didn’t smoke marijuana, knew next to nothing about the retail business and had never even seen many plants.

With the legalization of recreational marijuana, Neidlein’s life has changed dramatically.

He moved to Breckenridge about four years ago, and through some former roommates, he met Brian Rogers.

With co-CEO Caitlin McGuire, Rogers owns Backcountry Cannabis Company, formerly Breckenridge Cannabis Club. They also own a retail marijuana store in Crested Butte and a gift store in Breckenridge.

Rogers is also Oak Creek’s unofficial marijuana pioneer.

When retail marijuana sales started Jan. 1, 2014, Rogers and McGuire were already moving into 240 Arthur Ave. in Oak Creek, the site of a long-gone kayak factory. There, he converted a weathered-old building into the home of well over 1,000 marijuana plants, which get trimmed, processed, packaged and shipped for sale to places like Breckenridge and Crested Butte.

About the same time that the Arthur Avenue warehouse started growing, Neidlein moved to Oak Creek and worked his way up to the cultivation facility’s on-site manager.

“Moving out here was a big change,” said Neidlein, a Wisconsin native. “I just got a job here, and I slowly started working my way up.”

Rogers’ and McGuire’s business grew from just two employees this time last year to its current payroll of nearly 10. The Oak Creek warehouse itself is expanding and will soon house its own kitchen and laboratory for creating marijuana-infused products. Rogers estimates their Oak Creek facility is growing about 90 percent of what their storefronts need at the moment, up from 10 percent at the former Breckenridge garden.

In a little more than a year, Oak Creek went from one medical marijuana business to four licensed, retail growing operations, one approved retail storefront and more on the way.

The largest noticeable difference between Steamboat Springs’ marijuana industry and Oak Creek’s has been a numbers game.

Steamboat Springs officials opted to cap the retail industry at three licenses, whereas Oak Creek leaders have yet to set any such regulations. The only rule is that marijuana storefronts or cultivation facilities reside in two set-aside districts within city limits.

“They’re very accommodating within the guidelines they’ve set,” Rogers said about Oak Creek’s Town Board. “There are no caps currently on the number of marijuana businesses. There really shouldn’t be from the production level side.”

Oak Creek’s business future?

Without a cap on business operations, Oak Creek has built itself a bit of a dilemma in the first year of retail marijuana legalization.

The town is home to nearly 900 people but lacks a business backbone. Empty storefronts and forgotten buildings dot the mile-long stretch of Main Street and its adjacent backroads. Some see the marijuana industry as a viable business outlet for a town in need of more businesses.

“I want to urge everyone here to embrace the opportunities of the expanding marijuana industries,” resident Tamara Bereznak wrote in a letter to the Town Board. “Whether we like it or not, these businesses will exist. If Oak Creek chooses to deny them, they will go somewhere else.”

But without limits, marijuana business applications have regularly been submitted to the Oak Creek Planning Commission and Town Board seeking to fill those empty buildings and lots with marijuana-related businesses.

During five of the last eight regular Town Board meetings dating back to September, the board has either held a public hearing for approval of a proposed marijuana business or held lengthy discussions regarding the direction the town wishes to go with the burgeoning industry.

“We don’t want pot all the way down Main Street and on every corner,” Mayor Nikki Knoebel said. “We want to find the best way to have it there as a legal business.”

The owners of the prospective businesses that have submitted applications to the Planning Commission and Town Board said they aren’t only creating jobs in a town with few openings, but they are also paying stable wages. For example, Ant’s Organic — a cultivation facility that received board approval Nov. 13 to begin business — stated in its application that within the first year of operation, it will have three full-time employees with salaries between $32,000 and $36,000.

Oak Creek is reaping some revenue benefits, as well. The annual business licensing fees ($5,910 per marijuana business license) have already helped fund the hiring of a new full-time police officer. Because Oak Creek collects electric bills directly, more revenue has been generated from the enormous utilities usage at the cultivation facilities. Rogers said their monthly utilities bill is around $6,000.

South Routt School District also has seen some financial benefit from marijuana legalization when it was awarded $60,360 from the state in marijuana tax revenue grant funding in November to be used toward hiring a health care professional.

Knoebel said one of the more difficult consequences from Oak Creek’s surging marijuana business is how to keep it completely separate from nearby schools. It helps that Soroco middle and high schools are perched atop Grant Avenue and away from current and prospective businesses, she said, but without a cap on business numbers, the mayor worries how numerous marijuana businesses might eventually affect the town’s youth.

“We still want a community,” Knoebel said. “We don’t want the entire Main Street to be marijuana. We wouldn’t have a town without the school or a school without the town.”

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll

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