Chamber of Commerce expresses disappointment in P&Z recommendation against cannabis cultivation at Bonita greenhouse

The Graham County Planning and Zoning Commission voted 5-1 against recommending a zoning change to allow Bayacan to grow cannabis in a NatureSweet greenhouse that formerly grew tomatoes.

P&Z votes 5-1 against recommending the zoning change

By Jon Johnson

SAFFORD – It’s not every day a commission of volunteers exerts its position over an area’s business and academic interests. But that is what the Graham County Chamber of Commerce believed occurred Wednesday when the Graham County Planning and Zoning Commission voted 5-1 against recommending a proposed zone change to allow the cultivation of cannabis in an existing greenhouse that formerly grew tomatoes. 

It was the second time the commission had voted against a zoning application from Bayacan, LLC to change a greenhouse (Site 6) at NatureSweet’s tomato growing facility from General Land Use Certification to Unlimited Manufacturing to allow it to grow medical-grade cannabis. NatureSweet would like to sell the greenhouse to Bayacan and turn its Site 1 greenhouse into a Research facility. Both the Graham County Chamber of Commerce and Eastern Arizona College supports the zoning change. Read more about Bayacan and its proposed operation by clicking here

The property – located near S. Brookerson Road and Ash Creek Road in Bonita near the county line with Cochise County – is in a mostly agricultural area, and will utilize one of NatureSweet’s existing greenhouses that formerly grew tomatoes by essentially just switching to grow cannabis hydroponically. Bayacan plans to purchase the greenhouse from NatureSweet if it is allowed to grow cannabis.   

“Our interest at the Chamber is that businesses be allowed to do business,” Chamber Executive Director Vance Bryce said during the commission meeting. “The Chamber is proud of our community’s support of the right of individuals to own and operate businesses in our county without undue government regulations or barriers.” 

Photo By @_kingjayy: Top-shelf cannabis flowers generally range between 20-30 percent THC.

“Businesses have been cultivating plants at the site in question for the past 29 years,” Bryce said in a press release. “Cannabis cultivation is legal in Arizona and is rigorously regulated by the Arizona Department of Health Services. The unfavorable recommendation by the commission places undue government barriers on business.”

The commission and Graham County Board of Supervisors previously approved of a commercial cannabis growing operation in Eden headed up by Colvin Farms. That facility will operate on a 35-37 acre farm. Colvin Farms has already grown hemp on 100 acres in an area near the cannabis location for the past two years. Hemp does not have enough THC to give a user the high one gets from consuming cannabis. 

If the commission’s goal is to not have cannabis or cannabis cultivation in Graham County, why then would the Eden grow be approved? Also, there already is one business that sells cannabis for both medical and recreational use in Safford (Natural Remedy Patient Center), and a second license to sell recreationally in Safford has been approved by the state – along with two licenses for the Clifton area.  

NatureSweet has said its Bonita operations – its only tomato cultivation site in the United States – has been losing money every year and a crop disease wiped out any chance of using the site to grow tomatoes commercially again. The ultimate decision will be with the Graham County Board of Supervisors, which will take up the issue at its Monday, June 21 meeting, starting at 8 a.m. in the General Services Building. NatureSweet has advised that if the zoning is not approved, it won’t be able to sell the greenhouse and will have to shutter its doors instead.