Citing a desire to see economic development in the area and the inappropriateness of barring a business permitted by state law, a local commission has given preliminary approval for local property owners to lease their southside facility to a medical marijuana business.
“Since Santa Fe says this is a lawful activity, I don’t think as a commission we can deny that activity,” said Matthew Bristol, acting chair of the Roswell-Chaves County Extraterritorial Commission.
The commission voted 5-1 during its Tuesday night meeting to recommend in favor of the application of Gerald Greathouse and his family to rent out the former Nature’s Dairy bottling facility and some of its eight-acre property to a medical cannabis manufacturer. Retail sales would not be allowed on the site.
The approval came in spite of objections raised by two neighbors who said they worried about the ramifications of having such a business near them.
Commissioners Bristol, Larry Connolly, Royce Maples, Harold Hobson and Neil Roe voted in favor, while LeRoy Lang, citing federal law prohibiting marijuana use, cast the only dissenting vote.
The commission decision will stand unless someone appeals within 30 days.
The Chaves County Planning and Zoning staff has recommended approval, according to remarks made by Planning and Zoning Director Marlin Johnson.
Johnson, who noted that the manufacturing use met the county’s master plan for the area, said the recommendation came with the stipulations that the business meet all state laws and regulations, that the city of Roswell be able to enforce its arterial rights, that night lighting not be obtrusive to traffic or neighboring properties, and that security and screening or fencing of the property be provided.
Clinton Greathouse, telling commissioners that he represented his father, said that his family had been approached by several manufacturers about using the bottling plant, which has been vacant for more than three years now.
“We have been approached by multiple, different production facilities to use that for housing something in the south because of all the manufacturing that is up north,” Greathouse said.
Accompanying Greathouse was Matthew Tanner of Gold Label Labs of Carlsbad.
He told commissioners that Gold Label is in the process of obtaining a state manufacturing license for medical marijuana products and is interested in the possibility of renting the Greathouse’s facility and property.
“We are working on the application process,” he said. “The first part of that is actually establishing a location where the manufacturing would be taking place.”
He said his company would take marijuana grown by licensed nonprofit providers in the state, including possibly Pecos Valley Pharmaceuticals, which is owned by the Greathouse family, and would make such medicinal products as tinctures, capsules, vape cartridges or ingestible products.
Currently Gold Label makes only CBD or cannabidiol products, he said.
Although Gold Label has only one employee now, Tanner said a license and site would mean that it could hire five to 10 people to begin with. A few could earn as much as $25 to $45 an hour, but most would earn between $10 to $14 an hour.
Jimmie Williams and Terry O. Johnson spoke against having a medical marijuana manufacturer near their residences and businesses.
“If we were to agree to this change of use now, what ensures us that we are not going to create an environment down the road that we are not able to pull the reins back on?” Johnson asked, adding that he thought the state could be moving toward legalizing recreational use of marijuana.
“Again progressivism is never satisfied. We give a little now and we will have to give a little more later, and, before you know it, we have turned our neighborhood into something that may not be what we want it to be,” Johnson said. “I understand it is a prime location for their type of work, but I just don’t think it is a prime location for our community.”
In asking if there were other comments, Bristol said, “I would like to remind the audience that this is a land use commission. We are here on land use issues, not moral issues or religious issues.”
Williams said that he agreed with Johnson’s concerns that the facility, which has a storefront, could someday be the site of retail sales to the public.
“Are they going to start selling direct to the public? Chaves County already has enough issues with, I guess I’ll just call them druggies and stuff, on that end of town and they are going to be curious about what’s in there. Everybody is going to know what’s in there,” Williams said. “The Sheriff’s Department, they can’t keep up with the people out there as it is.”
Williams said that his issue was not with the product or the Greathouse family.
“But I think it is going to cause too much riff-raff on the southside of Roswell and making it a less desirable neighborhood,” Williams said.
In response to some of the objections voiced, the applicants said that they would have security systems on the premises. Greathouse also said that neither Pecos Valley Pharmaceuticals’ farm on Hobson Road or the store on West Country Club Road have experienced problems with crime.
Tanner also reiterated that the manufacturing license would not allow Gold Label to sell to the public.
Commissioner Lang, in expressing his opposition, said it was not wise to oppose federal law, which still prohibits the cultivation, sale and use of marijuana.
“When we decide to overrule federal law, where does that stop? Maybe I don’t want to stop at the stop sign, but federal law says I will,” he said. “So at this time I am opposed to the use of marijuana. Although I know there are some good uses, there are also some very unhealthy uses and I am opposed to breaking federal law.”
Commissioner Maples called the idea “crazy” because of the risk involved with conflicting laws, but he added, “By the same token, that place has been empty for several years. It is deteriorating. It is going to become more and more of an eyesore. I would like to see it cleaned up and fixed up and utilized for something, generate some revenues and some tax money.”
As with the rest of the state, the medical marijuana industry is growing in the area. According to New Mexico Department of Health data, which has regulated the industry since 2007, there are now 1,406 registered patients in Chaves County, up from 785 at the end of 2016.
Saying it sees a potential in the market, Ultra Health based in Arizona but with several stores and a cultivation site in New Mexico has plans to open a South Main Street dispensary by April to sell to patients.
“We are committed to giving Roswell more access and more choices,” said Communications Manager Marissa Novel. “We want eventually to have a dispensary in every county in New Mexico, and we have seen that there is a need we can fill in Chaves County.”
Ultra Health would be the third dispensary in Chaves County. In addition to the one run by Pecos Valley Pharmaceuticals, there is also a dispensary owned by Compassionate Distributors based in Ruidoso.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at email@example.com.