NIPTON, Calif. — One of America's largest cannabis companies has bought the entire California desert town of Nipton, leaving only one question: Will the new owners rename the place Potsylvania?
The name Weed already belongs to an old mill town in Northern California.
American Green Inc. announced Thursday it is buying all 80 acres of Nipton, which includes its Old West-style hotel, a handful of houses, an RV park and a coffee shop. It says it plans to transform the old Gold Rush town into what it calls "an energy-independent, cannabis-friendly hospitality destination."
The town's current owner, Roxanne Lang, said the sale is still in escrow, but confirmed American Green is the buyer. She declined to reveal the price before the sale closes, but noted she and her late husband, Gerald Freeman, listed the property at $5 million when they put it up for sale last year.
Asked what her husband would think of the buyers' plans to turn Nipton into the pot paradise of the California desert, she laughed heartily.
"I think he would find a lot of humor in that," she finally said, adding that as a Libertarian Freeman had no problem with people using marijuana, and as a proponent of green power he'd be all in favor of energy independence. Over the years he'd installed a solar farm himself that provides much of the tiny town's electricity.
American Green says it plans to expand that farm and also bottle and sell cannabis-infused water from Nipton's plentiful aquifer. The buyers are also reaching out to edibles manufacturers and other pot-industry businesses, hoping they'll be interested in relocating to Nipton and bringing jobs with them.
The town's current residents number fewer than two dozen and one of its major sources of revenue is the California Lottery tickets the general store sells to people who cross the state line from Nevada because they can't buy them there.
"We are excited to lead the charge for a true Green Rush," David Gwyther, American Green's president and CEO, said in a statement. "The cannabis revolution that's going on here in the U.S. has the power to completely revitalize communities in the same way gold did during the 19th century."
Indeed, it was a gold rush that created Nipton in the early 1900s when the precious metal was found nearby.
But by the time Freeman, a Los Angeles geologist who liked to look for gold in his spare time, discovered the place in the 1950s it was already a ghost town. It was also 60 miles south of Las Vegas and 10 miles off the major highway that connects that city to Los Angeles.
"I like to say it's conveniently located in the middle of nowhere," jokes Lang.
Freeman bought the town anyway, in 1985. He spent the next 30 years lovingly restoring its boutique hotel and general store, building canvas-covered "eco cabins" and stocking them with wood-burning stoves and swamp coolers.
The small hotel has become a popular destination with desert aficionados and fans of the Old West, even though it's located close to a major rail line that moves freight between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. The trains get so loud that guests are handed earplugs with their room keys.
Carl Cavaness, who works at the hotel, said Thursday the sale caught him by surprise. He said he hopes the new owners will let him and his wife stay.
"We like the quiet and solitude," the 53-year-old handyman said.