By Praveena Somasundaram
In Moffat, Colorado, a town of around 120 people, some board of trustees meetings don’t even reach quorum.
But there was standing room only at a meeting of the town's top decision-making body.
The public came to discuss a proposal to rename the town “Kush” after a type of cannabis that originated in the Hindu Kush mountain region.
Proponents said it could revitalise Moffat’s identity and culture, while others felt it would be unnecessary and disruptive.
The idea to rename the town was brought forward by Mike Biggio, the co-founder of Area 420, which provides land for licensed commercial cannabis growers. Over the past five years, the business has contributed significantly to Moffat's growth and revenue.
“I'm trying to create something like what happened with Napa Valley or even Humboldt, for our industry,” Biggio said.
Areas often have a specific history or product associated with them. California’s Napa Valley is associated with having terrain similar to Tuscany in Italy, both of which are known for producing wine.
Humboldt County in California is known for its cannabis production, something Biggio hopes to replicate in Moffat.
Even before trying to officially move the change forward, Biggio had always called Moffat “the Kush region of the United States”. He said Kush grows best in the area.
Since the commercial sale of marijuana was legalised in 2014, Colorado has seen a major increase in revenue from fees and taxes – including in small towns like Moffat.
“I think if we can re-brand this and have that designation, then this could be a world-renowned region for cannabis production,” Biggio said.
Moffat mayor Cassandra Foxx told the Denver Post, which first reported the story, that when Area 420 came to the southern Colorado town, it brought exponential growth.
According to the Denver newspaper, Moffat has had a large increase in tax revenue per year since the marijuana industry started to boom in the town. Last year, Moffat took in around $400 000 (about R6.4 million) in excise taxes, which came primarily from cannabis.
Area 420, Biggio said, is the largest employer in the area and many recognise its positive impact.
But it wasn't always that way.
In 2017, some residents protested marijuana growers, saying they were too close to their homes and businesses, according to the Center Post Dispatch.
Another concern was about members of the board of trustees who were in the marijuana industry benefiting from the panel’s zoning decisions.
At one point during Area 420’s land annexation process a few years ago, Biggio was on the town’s board. He stepped down because of a conflict of interest.
Following Area 420’s success, his efforts to propose the name change began a few weeks ago when he brought up the topic during public comment at a previous board meeting.
Biggio cited a rise in tourism as a result of recreational marijuana and confusion between Moffat and Moffat County – which is hours away – as reasons the name change would benefit the town.
His name-change proposal has garnered some support from the Moffat community – including from Foxx and some members of the board of trustees.
“Change is always good,” Foxx said. “The most dangerous phrase is: ‘We’ve always done it this way.’ That's the death of society.”
Others, though, are not convinced.
Trustee Ken Skoglund, who has lived in Moffat for over 40 years and helped build some parts of Area 420 with his excavation business, opposes changing the town’s name.
While acknowledging the positive impacts of the marijuana industry in Moffat, Skoglund said that all residents would have to change their addresses, letterheads, licences and more.
These changes, he added, would cost the town and its residents money.
“It's a good industry for Moffat, but that doesn’t mean it should come in and change the name of the town and disrupt a whole bunch of other people who don’t even care for marijuana,” Skoglund said.
The meeting was meant solely for public conversation, rather than decision-making. Discussions will continue as Moffat officials decide next steps in the process.
For now the town's name will stay as is, named after David H Moffat, a Colorado businessman and railroad builder.
“Why do we want to change that part of history, you know, just to make one other business so popular?” Skoglund said. “It can be ‘Moffat: The Kush capital of Colorado’. Everybody’s okay with that. But when they try to come in and change a name where it affects everybody… and then to name it something like that? Absolutely not.”