Marijuana leaf

SHOW LOW — The cannabis industry is booming, and with the Nov. 3, 2020 approval of Proposition 207, recreational marijuana is legal in Arizona and a buyer can possess up to one ounce of “flower” without criminal penalty. It used to be a felony in the state. The Independent has been following a number of developments with regard to the expanding cannabis industry on the Mountain and provides an update, below.

Copperstate Farms

By all appearances, this grow operation in Snowflake has been a success story since opening. The operation began in 2016 on a 150-acre parcel, 40 acres of which is currently occupied by greenhouses. Now Copperstate is celebrating its fifth year in the industry and there are 400 employed local people who can celebrate along with it. Additionally, Copperstate Farms Management, LLC, received approval from the Town of Snowflake around March 4 for a new development agreement to double the number of acres under greenhouses to expand its cannabis growing facility. The approval by Snowflake allows for the number of acres under greenhouses to expand to 80. The company is Snowflake’s largest employer and in a press release from the company, Snowflake Town Manager Brian Richards is quoted as saying “We are proud to support Copperstate and its growth. The company has become a valuable and intricate part of our community, generating hundreds of jobs and revitalizing our town.” It is the largest indoor cultivation plant in the U.S.

Around June 4, Copperstate announced the appointment of Kevin Burdette as interim Chief Operating Officer, effective immediately. Burdette will continue to serve on the Board of Directors at Copperstate Farms and has over 25 years of operational experience in ground transportation and logistics.

Green Hills Patient Center

This dispensary in Show Low holds a "dual license" to sell cannabis products to medical card holders and adult users. Green Hills has provided product to medical marijuana card holders for six years but delayed applying for the adult user license until they could be sure that the process of laboratory inspections would be fully functioning. The state legislature imposed a requirement that cannabis products must be tested to ensure that the claimed percentage of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, is as the seller says it is. Other lab testing involves identifying organic compounds in the plant itself and also evaluating the effect of compounds that are used in processing the product and extracting the active ingredient.

Green Hills does not accept any product for sale that has not been lab tested, a policy the "makes everything safer," said Ann Torrez of Green Hills.

Part of the marijuana legalization proposition which voters approved, allows for the expungement of past criminal convictions for simple possession of marijuana. Green Hills in conjunction with AZNormal, a long-standing marijuana advocacy group, will hold an in-person seminar where persons can learn how get a record expunged. Attorneys will be on site to help. The meeting will be between at 10 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. on July 25 at 3191 S. White Mountain Road in the conference room. Advanced registration is encouraged and can be done by visiting  Green Hills website at greenhillspatientcenter.com

Kompocare

In Taylor, Kompocare began its medical marijuana dispensary shortly after voters approved it, and since the flat out legalization of marijuana in the state, it moved to a dual use dispensary serving medical marijuana card holders and adult use consumers.

According to sources, former owners of Kompocare, Heather and Dusty DeClarlo sold the business and presumably the license from the Arizona Department of Health Services. The new owner is reported to be to an Illinois company called Consume Cannabis Company, an operation that runs eight dispensaries in Illinois and Michigan, according to its website. The original Kompo is reported to have a small local grow operation which was part of the sale.

It is unknown whether the new owner intends to keep operating in Taylor. Last year, there were reports that Kompo was eyeing a move to Show Low near the Commerce Drive/Thornton Road area of town near the intersection of Highway 77 and US Highway 60. That hasn’t happened yet, but sources say the move is still in the works. A media inquiry to Consume Cannabis went unanswered as of press time. A number of calls to Kompo and the ADHS about that were not returned. Employees at Kompo were reportedly told in early May of the sale.

Springerville

If the experiences of cannabis entrepreneurs on the Mountain could be categorized as the good, the bad and the ugly, Springerville’s endeavor has to be in the ugly, if not very ugly category.

The Town of Springerville leased land to White Mountains Flower, LLC (WMF) a foreign corporation, near the town’s airport for the development of a cannabis farm which would sell to wholesale suppliers. One town councilman, Ruben Llamas took a job with WMF as general manager, and Town Mayor Phil Hanson signed an employment agreement WMF, which would go into effect if a particular contingency happened with regard to state licensing. That contingency never happened, and the mayor did not go to work there.

In fact, the whole operation has shut down and whatever structures were erected on the property, according to residents, have been dismantled and removed. Noteworthy is the town’s recent infusion of $50,000 to its legal department possibly in anticipation of lawsuit(s.)

At first the operation’s death knell appeared to come from the Federal Aviation Administration getting wind of it. The FAA demanded that Springerville cease and desist the enterprise because if the town wanted to keep its airport funding from the FAA, the town was required to, and had already agreed to, not conduct any activity at the airport which would be in violation of federal law and/or administrative rules. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law. In a January 2021 letter to the town, the FAA threatened criminal action against the town for hosting a grow operation at their airport

Before the parties had a chance to see if a settlement with the FAA could be had, the real owner of the parcel of land came forward and apparently established that the town didn’t even own the parcel of land it leased to WMF.

Throughout the town’s pursuit of this, changing zoning and use ordinances to accommodate the facility, a very vocal group of residents made their objections to the farm loudly known. The resident urged that they opposed the farm because of claimed sweetheart deals, conflicts of interest, improper procedures by the town as well as the lack of studies about water availability and the environment in general. The town has consistently denied wrongdoing.

Depending on whom one asks, the group’s effort was either a fine example of the uniquely American effort by citizens to hold their government to account, or selfish, sore losers opposed the legalization of marijuana in the state, and who have lots of time on their hands to agitate.

The controversy in Springerville isn’t over. The vocal group mentioned above presented on June 1 to the town clerk, signed petitions seeking the recall of Councilman Llamas and Mayor Hanson. The petitions now go Apache County for review. An email seeking comment from the town went unanswered.

But after all that, Springerville may still may end up with a cannabis dispensary. Residents have reported to the Independent that a type of dispensary license issued by lottery has been awarded to two enterprises in Apache County. According to the ADHS, as of April 20, a license has indeed been issued to Springerville Smokeshop, LLC. Calls and emails to that establishment seeking comment have gone unanswered.

That smokeshop’s license is listed as “Not Operating,” by the ADHS. That could be because the town reportedly has not enacted an ordinance allowing a marijuana dispensary for adult users there. The Town Council is set to hear public comment on that issue July 13.

Reach the reporter at rlynch@wmicentral.com

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