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Denver’s Marijuana Gold Rush Is Forcing Out Locals

An influx of wealthy "ganjapreneurs" is causing real estate prices to skyrocket in Denver, which is not good news for everyone.
Photo by Kate Ter Haar

Denver's P&L Printing was founded as a worker-owned collective in 1980, and for most of that time the print shop cranked out newspapers, posters, and small press books from a warehouse in Jefferson Park. A few of the worker-owners even lived in lofts upstairs in the same building.

But all that changed after Denver's pot gold rush started drawing countless "ganjapreneurs" to the area: marijuana businesses hoping to cash in on Colorado's legalization of weed and Denver's friendliness to housing pot growers and retail dispensaries.


"Our building was being sold in order to build a luxury apartment complex," P&L co-owner David Strano told VICE News. "The new owner gave us a time frame of when to move. With the commercial real estate situation, it started this epic quest to find a new location we could afford."

The Jefferson Park warehouse building that was home to P&L for three decades first went on the market in 2008 for about $1 million, with almost no offers. Last year, it sold for $3.8 million.

P&L struggled for four years to settle into a new home, first moving to a second warehouse space in Jefferson Park and finally moving again to a remote industrial park where the company pays twice as much rent for exactly half the space it used to have, going down to 7,000 from 14,000 square feet.

"There's a lot of retail locations that marijuana businesses can't use, because of proximity to schools and things like that," said Strano. "So a lot of them have to end up in industrial areas, and we have to compete with them."

Activists are planting weed in public all over the UK. Read more here.

Denver's retail marijuana licensing procedures mandate a stringent code of applying for and obtaining a retail location, including paying a $20,000 tax bond upfront and finding a location within one of the city's several designated marijuana retail zones.

Across from P&L's new location in northeast Denver is a marijuana grow operation, and downstairs there's a grow supply store that sells hydroponic equipment and lighting.


The Denver Business Journal reported in April that industrial warehouse developers were "taking orders for new space faster than they can get it built." The article explained that developers were buying up buildings, or tearing them down to build new ones, with the express purpose of leasing at high rents to marijuana businesses.

The Journal article quoted Colliers industrial real estate specialist T.J. Smith, who said that the huge demand was being largely pushed by the marijuana industry and that business owners were picking up warehouse space "at double or even triple rents." "That's put a crunch on supply," Smith added.

Denver is booming — that is, depending on who you ask.

The Denver Metro Commercial Association declined to comment to VICE News on whether marijuana businesses were the reason for the city's low 3.1 vacancy rate on industrial real estate.

"Commercial real estate tracker Xceligent Inc. estimates that marijuana cultivation and manufacturing facilities in the city occupy about 4.5 million square feet — the equivalent of 78 football fields," reported the Denver Post in a March article. The Post also stated that some industrial spaces were fetching rents four times as high as those in 2009 — as much as $18 per square foot, more than many San Francisco warehouse rents — when a medical marijuana boom began expanding the amount of pot growers and suppliers in town.

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On January 1, Colorado became the first jurisdiction in the world to legalize regulated retail sales of marijuana. According to the Marijuana Policy Project, 200 retail shops had been licensed by May 1, with over 10,000 individuals getting certified to work in the industry.

As marijuana legalization is poised to spread to other cities, governments are looking to Colorado as the model for successful policy. A Brookings Institution report on the legalization rollout found that the state's "early implementation efforts have been impressive."

Denver is booming — that is, depending on who you ask.

'After the honeymoon phase wore off, people started having complaints and critiques about the impact the industry had on the culture of the city.'

Native Denver resident Sam Dreskin told VICE News he was forced out of his Capitol Hill apartment this January after the rent was suddenly doubled, from $600 to $1200 for a small one bedroom "with a kitchen the size of a pantry."

"I told my landlord I was outraged he was doubling the rent, and he said, 'Well, we're going to charge as much as the market can bear,'" said Dreskin. "It used to be that landlords were selective towards native Coloradans, especially in Capitol Hill. Now, everyone's saying they're going to bulldoze the old houses and build new condos."

Dreskin said that workers migrating to the city with dreams of getting rich in the pot industry are paying premiums for housing that cost a third of the current rate a few years ago. And the prospect of locals being forced out of homes and business locations is a side effect of legalization that no one saw coming.


"People had been so excited about the good things that come with marijuana legalization," Dreskin said. "After the honeymoon phase wore off, people started having complaints and critiques about the impact the industry had on the culture of the city, the prices, and certain neighborhoods just completely taking a different shape. And it's all in less than 12 months."

While notable think tanks like the Brookings Institution have deemed Colorado's pot rollout to be a rousing success, longtime residents seemingly have a different story to tell. And some of them might be forced to leave altogether.

P&L co-owner Strano said he was currently considering moving his family out of Denver: "If you're going to be paying this much, why not just live in New York?"

Washington State is about to face a serious weed shortage. Read more here.

Follow Mary Emily O'Hara on Twitter: @maryemilyohara