Dried marijuana plants are trimmed down to the buds, at White Diamond Botanicals in Pueblo West. Sharon Bechstrom, bottom, and Kim Bechstrom, far left, are employed by their son, Karson Bechstrom, to trim the buds. Bechstrom employs husband and wife, Daniel Oldham, front left, and Chayliah Oldham, top right, to trim the buds. (Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

Marijuana transforms Pueblo, Colorado from Steel City to Napa Valley of weed

Pueblo is perfectly positioned to corner the outdoor pot market.

Snug in Colorado’s “banana belt,” the city and county enjoy a mix of sunny, warm and dry weather that cannabis plants crave, growers say. Temperatures average more than 5 degrees warmer in Pueblo than in Colorado Springs. And while the rest of the Front Range might get clobbered with snow, Pueblo usually stays warmer and drier.

In Pueblo County — the state’s first to allow outdoor and greenhouse grows — the land is far more affordable than other parts of the Front Range. And unlike other areas of the state — such as the San Luis Valley or the far eastern plains — land can be purchased near a city of more than 100,000 people, complete with an airport and thriving cultural scene.

Pueblo’s recreational and medical marijuana plant count was second only to Denver County in the first half of 2016.

The recreational marijuana industry’s explosive growth “literally saved our construction community” during the latter part of the Great Recession — accounting for more than half of the county’s construction-related revenues over the past three years, said Chris Markuson, Pueblo County’s director of economic development and geographic information systems.

But economic leaders say Pueblo’s recovery is more than just the marijuana boom. The community sought to diversify its economy — having learned 35 years ago the perils of relying on one industry for prosperity — and has been relentless in using taxpayer money to woo aerospace, recreation and renewable energy businesses.

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