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Ordway considers retail sales

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TweedLeaf reps say they would bring good-paying jobs to Crowley County. - COURTESY TWEEDLEAF
  • Courtesy TweedLeaf
  • TweedLeaf reps say they would bring good-paying jobs to Crowley County.
On the Front Range, 70 to 80 people is not a huge assembly. But on Colorado’s eastern plain, the turnout at Ordway City Council’s Oct. 26 meeting was unprecedented. Whether to allow retail marijuana dispensaries within the town was the issue at hand, but only part of the change coming to Crowley County.

Colorado Springs-based company TweedLeaf currently operates a medical dispensary in Old Colorado City, with two more such locations planned. They’ve got their eye on Ordway for their first venture into retail (commonly called recreational) sales, but played it cool at the recent meeting about the Ordway Council’s decision, which is slated for the end of November. Company partner Welby Evangelista was conscious of her outsider status at the meeting, where attendees from the town with a population of just over a thousand address one another by first name. She closed by saying, “You guys love each other; we don’t want to be the dividing force.”

The company may have a happy-go-lucky attitude because it’s already got Crowley County commissioners to green-light plans for a massive grow operation in the county’s unincorporated territory. Evangelista promised TweedLeaf would be “hiring 300 people, starting with this community.” Adding, “We’re betting $20 million on this.” The cultivation will serve markets all over the state, but if Ordway allowed retail shops, TweedLeaf could sell their products right in town.

Nearly every person in attendance spoke about the prospect. On the opposition side, many worried that legal marijuana would draw “shady people” to the community. “There’s so many people here that moved into the state of Colorado that we didn’t want here to begin with,” one local said.

Others took the assessment further, naming whole communities that “marijuana riff-raff” have, in their opinion, utterly destroyed. A former Ordway mayor said, “Pueblo, they’re rated in the Top 10 worst cities in America; that’s a fact.” Another man claimed legal marijuana is behind “the panhandlers” and “overloaded” prisons in and around Pueblo. A woman gave Pueblo’s southern neighbor an even rougher evaluation. “I’ve been through Trinidad,” she said, “and I don’t think that depravity is worth the money.”

Supporters fired back. “Hell yeah, I’d like to live around it,” said one woman, citing the security requirements at dispensaries to quell fear about crime. Another speaker, comparing Ordway to his past urban homes, laughed off the worries about crime, saying, “I haven’t locked my doors since I got here.”

Others see pot shops as a rare opportunity in an otherwise depressed local economy. “Our forefathers sold off the water, so we’re stuck with that kind of punishment,” one commented. Another supporter echoed the theme, saying, “There’s no jobs in farming.” One resident recalled opposition to building the two prisons now operating in the county, saying they now employ “a lot of the same people.”

For their part, TweedLeaf representatives expressed outright enthusiasm for paying taxes, but also noted they’ve got no particular market research that would indicate a dispensary in the area would produce big sales numbers. Instead, they suggested that given the coming presence of the grow facility, “It would make sense to have a dispensary locally.” Salaries, they said, would likely start well above the local average. There is even hope of developing locally-named connoisseur strains to draw tourists.

It remains to be seen if out-of-state tourism would be impacted by marijuana dispensaries in southeastern Colorado. In nearby Rocky Ford, voters are considering a referendum to allow retail sales, with results coming in after press time. Rocky Ford is situated along Highway 50, a much bigger corridor than any in Ordway, but if either or both towns allowed retail sales, they’d be the closest stop for shoppers hailing from Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. And that’s a pretty big deal for such a small town.

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