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Panel will recommend marijuana site be rejected

Eastern Arizona Courier Article by Sam Ribakoff

The Graham County Planning and Zoning Commission voted Wednesday to recommend against a zoning change that would clear the way for a marijuana greenhouse in Bonita.

The vote was 5-1, according to the board’s clerk. The commission voted against the same recommendation in December, 8-1.

Bayacan has tried for months, with NatureSweet, the agricultural land’s current owner, to persuade residents and decision-makers in Graham County to support the rezoning effort, which would allow them to grow marijuana in one of NatureSweet’s greenhouses, with the option of adding a second greenhouse in the future.

The vote doesn’t mean it’s over. The commission acts as an advisory wing to the Graham County Board of Supervisors, which will make the decision at its meeting at 8 a.m. Monday. The commission’s vote sends an unfavorable recommendation to the supervisors.

Two of the three supervisors wouldn’t tip their hand on how they’ll vote after the meeting.

During the commission meeting, representatives from Bayacan and NatureSweet spoke to commissioners and an overflow room in attendance about the projected benefits to the local economy that Bayacan’s proposed marijuana growing business could have. A representative from the union that represents agricultural workers at the NatureSweet greenhouses also spoke about the proposed project’s benefits for local agricultural workers, and the possibilities of losing those jobs if the rezoning request isn’t approved.

Several residents from Bonita countered, saying that they were concerned about the possibility of odors from the facility and the negative effect of it on their own health and the health of their horses and businesses associated with raising horses. They also said they were angry that they hadn’t been contacted directly by Bayacan or NatureSweet, a charge that Heather Dukes, legal counsel for Bayacan, denied.

“We have made it a priority to reach out to people in Bonita and around the county. I do disagree with those statements,” Dukes said. “We’re going to evaluate some of the concerns and questions that were raised today and prepare for the next meeting.”

In a statement sent shortly after the vote, the Graham County Chamber of Commerce said it was disappointed with the outcome.

“Our interest at the chamber is that businesses be allowed to do business,” said Vance Bryce, the executive director of the chamber. He described the commission vote as placing “undue government barriers on business.”

Supervisors weigh in

Graham County Supervisor Danny Smith said Wednesday evening that he expected the results given the commission’s previous vote. Smith said he will wait to decide how he’ll vote until he hears from Bayacan and citizens on Monday.

Supervisor Paul David said he is trying to assess as much information as possible before he votes on Monday.

“A single meeting is probably not going to tip me one way or the other,” he said.

David added that he’s received a lot more emails and letters from residents opposed to the rezoning initiative than in favor.

“The people on the opposition have gone on a pretty extensive campaign,” he said.

But David said he’s still keeping an open mind.

“Stay tuned til Monday, then everyone will know,” he said.

Supervisor John Howard could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Bayacan sometimes uses the phrase “medical-grade” to describe the marijuana they want to grow at the site. Frank Van Straalen, a founding partner of Bayacan and a former executive at EuroFresh Farms, clarified that once the marijuana crop is grown, the company’s distributors will decide whether it’s used for medical or recreational marijuana.

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