Is a town in Colorado the first to become a cannabis ghost town? Westword’s Thomas Mitchell reported that the green rush of cannabis business licenses in Colorado left the town of Ordway a “ghost town,” filled with vacant growing operations.
Hasn’t this happened before? Out of the hope of profitable veins of gold sprung boomtowns during the California Gold Rush, a mid-19th century rush of people seeking a fortune from gold. Bodie, California, for instance, soared to over 8,000 people looking for gold until its resources were exhausted. It happened in Colorado, too. Cripple Creek, Colorado soared to over 55,000 people looking for the same. Once the gold resources were drained, people more or less abandoned them, leaving ghost towns.
There’s a new boomtown phenomenon happening right now: cannabis.
Ordway—only a few years ago—was a cannabis boomtown. The town is about 50 miles east of Pueblo in Crowley County, with a population of around 1,000 people. Ordway had 56 active growing facilities at its peak, Westword reports, and around seventy grow operations there were registered with the state Marijuana Enforcement Division by the end of 2022. But recently, there are only about 20 left, according to local licensing officials.
Most of these grow operations weren’t able to survive 2023: From December 2022 to December 2023, the number of adult-use cannabis grow operations saw a 30% drop in the state’s cannabis workforce and a major decline in dispensary sales since pandemic restrictions ended.
Bubba’s Kush Cultivation is a small batch craft cultivator, based in Ordway, focused on providing a clean, consistent, quality product. The team behind Bubba’s Kush is concerned about the future of growing in Ordway.
“I’ve seen equipment left out in fields by people who couldn’t figure it out, and entire crops left to dry outside. No one has to worry about it being stolen. There’s barely anyone here—and what is it really worth, anyway?” cannabis cultivation Bubba’s Kush founder Chris Kaiser asked Westword.
Kaiser said he can throw a rock from his parking lot and hit one of a half-dozen failed cultivations. “That one’s closed. That one’s closed. That one’s closed,” he said. “A lot of people have just up and left. One guy is asking for $1.3 million. Ha—good luck with that.”
He said cannabis operators were promised endless potential for profit in the cannabis industry, but that’s not what ended up happening.
“Even if you’re still open, you’re struggling. Being a cannabis grower was never all it was cracked up to be, but this is getting out of control,” he says. “I guess this is what it takes if you want to win. It’s a tough scene, and I don’t think it’s going to get any easier.”
The price of wholesale cannabis reached record-low prices in Colorado, according to the state Department of Revenue, falling over 56% on average since Bubba Kush’s first harvest in 2021.
Local cannabis activist Mason Tvert admitted not everyone is cut out to survive in the cannabis industry, especially during the past few years.
“It’s been a unique period of time for all businesses, especially cannabis businesses,” Tvert told Westword. “Inflation, COVID-19 and staffing have all created real issues, so I’m not terribly surprised with how it’s played out. Anyone who’s looking at this industry should be wary of the potential for dramatic changes. With something this new and varied around the country, there are a lot of people who just want to open a marijuana store because it’s exciting, fun or unique. As people were doing that, though, we sort of realized that ten years from now they would be owning a liquor store, but with more rules.”
Decline in Colorado Cannabis Sales
The state has undergone a tough period over the past several years. In 2022, High Times reported on the decline in sales.
Sales of both medical and recreational cannabis in Colorado plummeted in June 2022 compared to the previous year, the state’s Department of Revenue reported, an alarming decline that industry officials attribute to a variety of reasons.
Medical cannabis sales totaled $19,235,656 in June—down from $34,534,293 in June 2021. Recreational pot sales, meanwhile, generated $127,157,358 in June—down from $152,719,813 in June 2021.
Colorado cannabis sales continued a downward trend in November 2023 as adult-use and medical cannabis retail locations generated $110.5 million in revenue, the lowest monthly total since February 2017.
Adult-use sales fell to $95.8 million, down around 16% year-over-year, according to data recently released by the Colorado Department of Revenue. Medical cannabis sales in November dropped to $14.5 million, down about 11.5% year-over-year. November marked the fourth consecutive month of a decline in sales in Colorado’s cannabis market, suggesting that the state is headed for its second consecutive year of significant declines in pot sales.
Colorado’s 2023 cannabis sales are on track to reach about $1.5 billion, which would be down nearly 13% from 2022.
Major declines in sales like this have left so-called “ghost towns” like Ordway, full of vacant cannabis-related properties. (Full Story)