Marijuana: Garden City has northern Colorado's first pot shop -- naturally

While much of northern Colorado was concentrating on seceding from the state last fall, Garden City continued to go its own way -- and that way was focused squarely on the future. And yesterday, Cloud 9 Caregivers opened in that tiny town (population 241 in 2012) -- the first retail marijuana shop in northern Colorado. Cloud 9 had been operating as an MMJ dispensary for several years and owner Erica Pilch had hoped to open for recreational sales on January 1, but encountered a few obstacles along the way.

The folks of Garden City don't give up easily, though.

Robin Chotzinoff wrote about Garden City's down-and-dirty history for "The Plot Thickens", a 2001 Westword cover story that remains an excellent read. It recounts how a local farmer, catering to the needs of thirsty residents of very dry Greeley, filled watermelons with liquor and sold them. And then he got even more ambitious:

Old newspaper accounts describe how A.F. Ray decided to incorporate his truck garden as a city, for the sole purpose of issuing liquor licenses. The name he proposed in 1935 was Garden City, as in, "Hey, on your way over to the barbecue, why don't you stop by 'Garden City' and pick up a few of those 'watermelons?'" His Greeley neighbors, who bought plenty of alcohol, were nevertheless scandalized at the idea of doing it legally. A.F. Ray's battle with the Colorado Secretary of State and the Weld County District Attorney dragged on for three years, eventually going all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court, with the Greeley Tribune covering the story every step of the way.

"There are five gambling dens in the proposed city," the paper reported in February 1935. "The district attorney says he will attack the constitutionality of Garden City's restaurant licenses. They are saloons, and saloons are unconstitutional." That same year, Ray and his wife, Ida, accused the Colorado political machine of "conspiring to destroy Garden City."

In 1936, reports of "much intoxication" made the news; it also was suspected that a petition signed by the 38 inhabitants of A.F. Ray's truck farm/"cottage camp" might prove invalid, since a few of the signees were babies.

As late as June 1938, a headline read "Garden City Isn't There Anymore, High Court Says." But two months later, the town finally became official when A.F. Ray conducted its first order of business: issuing a liquor license to his own bar, the Nob Hill Tavern.

Even after Greeley finally went wet in 1968, Garden City continued to celebrate its reputation as "Boozeville."

And in the past decade, Garden City has pushed its anything-goes reputation even further by allowing medical marijuana dispensaries as other nearby municipalities banned them.

By last fall, when MMJ centers could start applying for retail licenses, there were four in Garden City. Cloud 9 was the first to make it open for retail sales, and the resulting publicity had the town back on cloud 9.

Particularly since, yes, the City of Greeley has banned retail marijuana shops. Bring on the watermelons.

More from our Marijuana archive: " Thirty retail pot stores now licensed in Denver."

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun