Eastern Arizona Courier Article by Tom Bodus
Graham County voters on Tuesday sided with a decision county supervisors made nearly a year and a half ago.
They passed Proposition 401, a local ballot measure that will allow two of the six NatureSweet greenhouse complexes near Bonita to be rezoned from A (general land use) to M-X (unlimited manufacturing land use) so that the company can complete a sale of the properties to cannabis cultivator Bayacan LLC.
Although results of the election are not official yet, there was sufficient distance between yes votes (5,751) and no votes (4,863) to indicate the matter is all but settled.
“We want to thank Graham County voters and the Board of Supervisors for this tremendous opportunity to diversify the greenhouse campus in Bonita,” Heather Dukes, the legal representative for NatureSweet and Bayacan in their Proposition 401 campaign. “Both the supervisors and voters spent a significant amount of time learning about the history of the greenhouses and our future plans to create sustainable operations by cultivating medical grade cannabis on Sites 5 and 6. We want to recognize the community’s considerable efforts to attend meetings, to ask the difficult questions, and to inform their families, coworkers and neighbors of the importance of this vote.”
Proposition 401 was born from a signature drive that followed a June 21, 2021, Graham County Board of Supervisors meeting in which the supervisors voted 2-1 to change the zoning of two of NatureSweet’s greenhouse complexes. The M-X designation would allow for the cultivation of marijuana within the facilities, which in turn would allow NatureSweet to complete their sale to Bayacan.
By July 2021, two groups were pursuing enough signatures to initiate a ballot referendum to have the supervisors’ decision overturned.
One of them, calling itself Respect the Will of the People, succeeded in gaining the requisite signatures to place the measure on the November 2022 ballot. The Scottsdale-based group lists its chairman as George Khalaf, a conservative political strategist and consultant who’s listed as president of Data Orbital, a data and survey research firm, and as managing partner of the Resolute Group, a public relations firm.
Khalaf had not responded to a request for comment as of press time.
Bryant Ambelang, president and CEO of NatureSweet Ltd., previously said on multiple occasions that NatureSweet would withdraw its operation from Graham County entirely if Proposition 401 failed.
“While this rezoning approval was a crucial victory for us, our work here is not finished,” Dukes said. “We are committed to implementing the diversification plan in the coming months and years in accordance with state and county requirements and regulations. We are committed to recruiting job applicants from Graham County and the San Carlos Apache Tribe. And we are committed to being a good neighbor and partner within this community.”
Reach Tom Bodus at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (928) 424-6231.