Marijuana Facts

Dramatic changes expected in former marijuana “desert” of southeast Colorado

If Colorado had a “pot desert” — a place where no marijuana could be legally purchased for miles and miles around — it was the southeast corner of the state, a wide swath of fields and farms where U.S. 50 cuts through small communities such as La Junta, Las Animas and Lamar.

But that wasteland for weed is beginning to transform into a cannabis marketplace of sorts five years after the state’s first marijuana dispensaries opened for business. Starting with Rocky Ford, where a lone dispensary opened its doors in late 2017, to the pot shop that opened less than three months ago in Ordway, residents of Crowley and Otero counties can now score a joint or bottle of edibles without having to drive an hour to Pueblo.

That convenience will soon spread even deeper into the plains — to Bent County — after residents in Las Animas voted last month to legalize recreational marijuana sales. And it won’t just benefit weed-loving locals — the stores will be a stop-off point for out-of-state tourists coming from states with no marijuana scene whatsoever.

“Business has been exceptionally good,” said Joseph Chetty, owner of Wicked Weed in Ordway. “People from out of state, like Oklahoma and Texas, travel through. It used to be they couldn’t find anything to buy until they got to Pueblo. It was a bit of an inconvenience.”

Joe Amon, The Denver Post

Wicked Weed Dispensary owner Joseph Chetty works at the counter of his store in Ordway.

But bringing pot sales to Ordway, a town of 1,000 people 13 miles north of Rocky Ford, was no easy feat, said town trustee Joe Zemba. 

“As with most rural communities, change of this nature in a conservative area is met with its fair share of critics,” Zemba said. “However, the overwhelming support for excess marijuana tax revenues indicate that our community recognizes the need for additional revenue sources.”

Ordway is in Crowley County, which, according to U.S. Census Bureau numbers released this month, had the third-highest poverty rate in the country. Zemba said marijuana sales tax dollars could help the town rebuild its sidewalks and replace an outdated software system that costs the town more than it should to operate and maintain.

“In all, whether marijuana taxes generate $10,000 or $100,000, the benefits to the town of Ordway change our outlook dramatically,” Zemba said. “While $40,000 or $50,000 of added revenue may be a drop in a bucket for a larger municipality, those funds could mean better streets, better parks or another job for someone living in Ordway.”

The maximum number of dispensaries for recreational pot in Ordway will be two.