Covering Colorado's marijuana landscape has taken me to farms, hash factories, schools and much more, but my weirdest field trip this year started at an empty warehouse off Interstate 25 in south Pueblo.
In October, a marketing firm reached out to Westword and other media entities around the country, offering an "all-expense-paid trip to cannabis-friendly Colorado" to visit properties that Doyen Elements had partnered with in southern Colorado. The firm would fly reporters to Denver, put them up at a hotel near Denver International Airport for two nights and take them on a tour — all while paying for food, drinks and transportation.
Since all of those perks easily go over the $25 gift limit I learned about in college, I declined the freebie offer. But I thought it would be interesting to see what Doyen was up to (and how the junket journalists covered it), and I already lived in "cannabis-friendly Colorado," so I drove myself and followed the bus.
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The starting point of the tour was that empty warehouse, a former Pepsi bottling plant that closed in 2003 as Pueblo continued to suffer through the economic doldrums set in motion by the steel recession decades before. The property had since served as a vehicle storage facility, and Doyen bought it with plans to convert the vast space into a commercial growing, processing and extraction facility that could distribute nearly 10,000 pounds of marijuana flower and products to dispensaries. Although many Pueblo dignitaries came out for the ground-breaking last summer, Doyen's plans stretch far beyond the city.
“I wasn’t just looking at Pueblo when I bought this,” Doyen founder and CEO Geoff Thompson told me during the tour. “By 2021, I want to be at one million square feet across the country. Pueblo would be the base of our southwestern operations.”
And how is a mystery brand with hands in 23 different licensed pot businesses going to accomplish this? “We don’t actually touch the plant,” explained Doyen president Natalie Romolt.
Considered an ancillary business — one that serves the marijuana industry but doesn’t hold licenses to grow, process or sell it — Doyen doesn’t actually own any of the pot it profits from, instead providing consulting, real estate, construction, research and equipment services to licensed pot businesses. Many of its operations are similar to those of a licensed pot company: It buys real estate and equipment for commercial grows and handles regulation issues. But it doesn't have any marijuana-growing, infused-product or dispensary licenses, instead supplying resources for businesses that do. That means it doesn't conduct any federally illegal business, so Doyen can be traded publicly.
The reporters on the tour didn't much care for the fine print; the only media outlets that had taken Doyen up on its offer were a few weed-centric publications in California and Canada. There were nearly as many Doyen employees as reporters on the tour, and the scribes along for the ride didn't ask many probing questions about Doyen's big plans.
The warehouse at 1900 South Freeway Drive didn't show much evidence of action; old furniture, books and other forgotten belongings were scattered around the space that had stored cars, boats and RVs. The area where Thompson plans an eco-friendly cultivation — which he says will include wind turbines or natural gas generators for energy, recycled and refined exhaust for CO2 extraction and industrial chillers for climate control — was inhabited only by dust and debris.
Romolt told the tour that Doyen also had plans to represent a licensed marijuana testing laboratory at the same address. When I pointed out that that would be a conflict of interest, she agreed and then continued the tour, as reporters took selfies and 360-degree videos around the property.
The warehouse project is still in phase one, according to Thompson. No licenses for a medical or recreational marijuana business or laboratory had been issued to the warehouse's address by the Marijuana Enforcement Division as of December 1, meaning the company hadn't locked down any licensee partners for the location. But Thompson was looking ahead.
Visitors to Doyen’s website immediately see the “INVEST NOW” link at the top of the page, with common stock available to anyone willing to pay $7 a share — the company hopes to raise $49 million on seven million shares — but approval from the SEC is still pending. Doyen had $301 on hand by the end of 2016, according to the SEC filing, and the company had yet to make a profit by June 2017.
Thompson’s not captaining this ship with zero experience: He's managed firms that design beneficial tax strategies for the wealthy, founded health-care and tax-mitigation firms that went public, and managed to get his ancillary pot company, Advantameds Solutions, listed on the Canadian Stock Exchange before changing the name to Doyen. In November 2016, the company paid $40,000 for financial advisory services to Wellington, Shields & Co., a member of the New York Stock Exchange and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. On the tour, Thompson admitted he was readying Doyen for interstate commerce if and when federal legalization comes.
The marketing firm that put on the trip for Doyen, CrowdfundX, describes itself as a firm that helps "acquire new investors and shareholders at scale" and "streamline retail investor acquisition" for clients.
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The tour continued through various cultivations, dispensaries and processing facilities owned by Today's Health Care, a southern Colorado dispensary chain and a client of Doyen's. Although it has four locations, Today's Health Care could never dream of taking up enough space to fill Doyen's massive warehouse, which is why I asked if Doyen could name any other partners. The tour guides declined.
The pot industry is moving quickly, with various enterprises moving up and down the evolutionary chart as new players continue to enter the field. Andrew Freedman, former Colorado director of marijuana coordination, is now a consultant for states considering legalization; he thinks marijuana industry consolidation is further along in Colorado than in any other legal state.
“One person said he felt like he was currently dealing with the mom-and-pops who were soon going to lose to Blockbuster, which was soon going to lose to Netflix — and to some extent, I think that's true,” he told us this fall.
And where does Doyen fall on the timeline: Blockbuster or Netflix? The stage is set, but that warehouse is still empty.