A few years ago, the building at 745 Industrial Blvd. in Pueblo West was just another vacant warehouse, one of many victims of the Great Recession.
“It was empty for years,” said owner Rob Lucero. “No one wanted these buildings, but then a guy who wanted to start a marijuana grow came along. I rented to him, and I got interested in the business.”
Lucero’s niece had suffered from seizures, and medications did nothing to alleviate them.
“She would have 200, 300 a day,” he recalled. “She had to wear a helmet; we had to pull all of her teeth. She died a few years ago.”
Lucero learned that cannabis oil might have helped his niece.
“If you open your mind to [the marijuana business],” he continued, “you can see a lot of great things.
Lucero’s tenant had difficulty navigating the complex regulations that marijuana growers have to deal with, so Lucero acquired the business.
“I owned a landscaping and contracting business,” he said. “We did a lot of government business, so I understood that kind of environment. I didn’t know anything about marijuana, and it’s not easy. You need compliance, due diligence, really good people — there was a lot to learn.”
The Pueblo native persuaded Colorado State University-Pueblo classmate Dave Munn to join him as the company’s COO, and they learned together.
“Imagine if you bought an NBA team, hired great basketball players, went out on the court and after the first quarter they changed the rules and told you to play football,” Lucero said. “That’s what it’s like with state regulations — they change, you adapt or you go out of business.”
A WORLD APART
Visitors to The Spot 420, as Lucero named his enterprise, enter a spacious, high-ceilinged room where a security guard checks identifications. Over 21? Proceed directly into the retail marijuana store.
In common with other retail outlets in the state, there’s a wide selection of cannabis products and accessories, but unlike most, the Spot is vertically integrated.
The sleekly renovated warehouse contains offices and multiple grows that supply both of the company’s retail stores. In addition there’s a tour corridor, a glass-walled passageway where visitors can look at marijuana plants growing on either side.
For the uninitiated, it’s an eye-opening experience.
“We grow all of our plants from seed,” said budtender John Verna. “Every plant is tagged and tracked from planting until market. We can account for all the product that comes from here.”
Visitors inside the grow operations must don protective footwear and must attest to not going into other grow operations — to avoid cross-contamination of plants.
Brilliant white grow lights illuminate plants at various stages of growth. Fans attached to sidewalls oscillate continuously, while nutrients and water purified by reverse osmosis are automatically delivered through a bewildering array of pumps, pipes and trays.
It’s as clean and sterile as an operating room, an isolated monoculture sealed off from the outside world.
“It’s not exactly a basement grow, is it?” asked Lucero. “We make sure that there’s no cross-contamination and control the entire process. We continuously monitor [carbon dioxide] levels, temperature, humidity and adjust these and other [metrics] to create an optimum environment.”
Such sophistication isn’t cheap. While Lucero wouldn’t give an exact figure, he said $3.3 million in costs as “pretty close — but a little on the low side.”
That’s a lot of capital to invest in a business that remains driven by the vagaries of politics, the whims of legislators and the decisions of voters.
Issue 200 on the Nov. 8 ballot would ban retail cannabis in the city and county of Pueblo. It’s clearly an existential threat to the Spot, but Lucero and his partners don’t believe that Pueblo voters will approve the measure.
“We’d lose 1,300 jobs, dozens of businesses and millions in taxes,” said The Spot manager (and Rob’s son) Buddy Lucero.
In fact, Pueblo County receives more than $3 million annually from state and local cannabis taxes — much of it paid by the Spot. In addition, the marijuana industry has generated approximately $25 million into Pueblo’s construction economy.
“The people who say that our product gets to kids don’t know what they’re talking about,” Lucero said. “Kids buy on the street, same as they always have. Our customers are older and mainly from out of state. We do about as much business as all the other Pueblo outlets combined. We’re not the cheapest — we’re all about the quality of the experience.”
What about legalization in other states? Will that impact the Pueblo industry?
“I don’t think so,” said Buddy Lucero. “People come to Colorado — if it’s legalized in Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico maybe, but California won’t matter. Look at our map.”
In The Spot’s lobby, an oversized map of the world is dotted with thousands of pins placed by customers from every state and scores of foreign countries.
“I think we’re good,” said Rob.