High Hopes

Colorado Man Buys Former Prison, Hoping to Transform It Into a Pot Factory

Nick Erker is vying to turn an abandoned prison into a marijuana-growing facility. If the town of Brush’s motto—‘homegrown happiness’—holds true, buds will be sprouting in no time.

07.31.14 9:45 AM ET

Two years after Colorado legalized pot, the drug is going back to prison. Or—it might be.

The man who wants to put it there is Nick Erker. In March the Colorado native, who sells wholesale farm products, decided to purchase an abandoned jail in his hometown of Brush. He didn’t have cannabis on the brain while sealing to deal, he says, but honestly, is there anything smarter to do with a gigantic facility than take a piece of the Centennial State’s pot pie? And as if the idea of cannabis sprouting in the very cells where marijuana offenders dreamed of freedom isn’t enough irony for one story, take a whiff of the town’s jolly motto: “Homegrown Happiness.”

If Erker’s plans pan out, his facility could soon be the envy of weed growers nationwide. Situated on 22.5 acres of land, the former High Plains Correctional Facility offers more than 5,000 square feet of indoor space and more than 300,000 feet of outdoor space. Built as an all-female private prison in 2003, it houses enough playing fields to host a mini-Olympics. Inside the prison are regulation-size basketball and volleyball courts. Outside are a regulation-sized soccer field, baseball field, football field, and a quarter-mile asphalt track. Oh, and there’s a computer lab, indoor gym, and pool.

While Erker may have the state’s most creative plan for a grow facility, he’s definitely not the first to suggest something unorthodox. In February, a company called Tweed, Inc., won the rights to open an enormous marijuana grow dispensary inside what was once a thriving Hershey factory. “Tweed’s grow room is kind of like Willy Wonka gone 21st century. Except instead of chocolate, it’s pot,” said local news following the grand opening.

Reports this May that private investors were attempting to buy a hockey rink in MacTier, Canada, and turn it into a marijuana facility angered some residents—and fans. “I can throw a golf ball that far,” one dad told The Ontario Star. “When our kids are outside playing in the playground, they’d be looking across the street at a marijuana grow-op.”

Or take the Illinois entrepreneur who’s giving a whole new meaning to the phrase “the sky’s the limit.” Come next year, Anthony D. Fiacchino hopes to win the rights to transform 70,000 square feet of the Southern Illinois Airport in Murphysboro into a bed of budding cannabis.

If Erkler wants his pot prison to compete with the likes of these facilities, he’ll have to convince the Brush City Council to lift the current moratorium on selling and growing marijuana until 2016. After he explained to council members why the facility not only would add much-needed jobs but also bolster the town’s economy, they agreed to allow the residents’ to vote on Monday.

“They’re on the very first avenues of seeing whether or not the citizens want this in the community,” Andrea Rand, the Brush City Clerk, tells The Daily Beast. “It would take council action, and they have to get zoning regulations in place. It would be a lot of backend work.” While Rand wouldn’t shed any light on how the proposition has been received thus far, she could be heard stifling a bit of a chuckle. Even those who don’t support the concept likely can’t help but laugh at its ridiculousness.

If pot got to do a victory dance, this would be it.