Holyoke, Massachusetts, hasn't been a boomtown since the early 1900s when all of its now-abandoned paper mills were still in business. But the city's 29-year-old mayor has an idea for bringing the jobs back and breathing new life into those old buildings: marijuana.
On Sunday, Massachusetts will become the first East Coast state to allow the sale of recreational marijuana, and although many municipalities in the state have banned or temporarily blocked the pot industry, Holyoke is ready to welcome it with open arms. The city's mayor Alex Morse believes Holyoke is the ideal location for the cannabis industry in Massachusetts -- and possibly the country.
Morse hopes all of the unused space in the city's abandoned mills will attract cannabis companies looking for space to grow, process and sell cannabis -- perhaps even with a few Amsterdam-style cafés where people can enjoy it, too.
"I think there's a big stigma in the industry and a lot folks still have their head in the sand about it," Morse told CBS News' Alex Morse.
He's already got the first green shoots of his plan.
"Fifty thousand square feet of vacant unused space is now generating revenue, jobs for the city. ... A good problem for us to have would be to run out of space and that would literally mean millions of dollars in additional revenue for the city," Morse said.
A former mill space is already operating as marijuana cultivation center after a $10 million investment by GTI, a cannabis company based in Chicago betting on a wave of East Coast legalization. Pete Kadens, GTI's director and CEO, said that one location alone will be capable of producing 700 pounds of cannabis per month. That's enough for about 320,000 joints or nearly four million buzzed customers per year. And these days, the case for cannabis legalization is well-known.
"Holyoke is a community that's roughly 50 percent minority, mostly Puerto Rican. It's a community that's been ravaged by the war on drugs," Kadens said.
Instead of a failed and costly prohibition, with arrests skewed toward minorities, advocates argue for regulated sales and taxes. A record 64 percent of Americans seem to agree, saying they support legalization, according to a 2017 Gallup poll, up from just 12 percent in 1969.
But as more states experiment, the case against legalization may get stronger. Opponents of legalization worry that it will lead to more use and more abuse. A recent study in Colorado, the first state to legalize, found that the top 30 percent of pot consumers drove nearly 90 percent of the demand.
Morse doesn't see it as a vice industry like alcohol, tobacco or gambling.
"I think there's community benefits as compared to other substances or other industries," he said.
One of those benefits was on display just a room over, where Nelvis Garcia was working as an entry level grow technician, tending to young marijuana plants. After temping in the construction industry, he thinks this is the best job in Holyoke, earning him $15 per hour, plus benefits and room to advance.
Garcia said he's excited for the future not because he's a pot smoker but because he's a Holyoke native just like Mayor Morse. Together, they're rooting for their hometown to boom again.