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Board set to rehash marijuana farm

August 14, 2015 • Local News

Clinton Greathouse, owner of the former Nature’s Dairy and CEO of Pecos Valley Pharmaceuticals, speaks at the May 12 meeting of the ETZ Commission, which voted 4-2 in favor of a change of industrial zoning use to allow the pharmaceutical company to convert the former dairy plant into an indoor pot farm. Terry R. Johnson II has appealed the decision to the ETZ Authority. (Jeff Tucker Photo)

A local zoning board is scheduled next week to reconsider a proposed indoor medical marijuana farm near Roswell, although the debate and decision could be largely symbolic as the pot farm endeavor continues to await approval from state authorities and, theoretically, stands about a one-in-seven chance of receiving state approval.
The Chaves County Extraterritorial Zoning Authority is scheduled to meet Tuesday night to consider an appeal of a prior zoning approval that would allow Pecos Valley Pharmaceuticals Inc. to establish a medical marijuana production facility at the former Nature’s Dairy milk processing plant at 5104 S. Main St.
The meeting is scheduled at 5:30 p.m. in the commissioner chambers of the Chaves County Administrative Center at 1 St. Mary’s Place.
The ETZ Authority is comprised of Chaves County Commissioners Will Cavin, Robert Corn and James Duffey and Roswell City Councilors Tabitha Denny and Savino Sanchez Jr.
ETZ controversy
Clinton Greathouse, owner of Nature’s Dairy and CEO of Pecos Valley Pharmaceuticals, said Sanchez should not be allowed to decide the appeal in light of a letter to the editor Sanchez wrote in May in opposition to the proposed pot farm.
“Oh, you can say whatever your heart desires to make people feel like it is something that is needed in this city, well take it to Artesia, Carlsbad or Hobbs,” Sanchez wrote the Daily Record. “Well, go ahead give me your words on how I haven’t any compassion on those that are sick or in pain, but you’re wrong, I do have compassion and that’s why I believe this is wrong and I will continue to take a stand to do what is right.”
Greathouse said Sanchez prejudiced himself.
“I think he has to disqualify himself from the hearing because he made a comment that he’s completely against it,” Greathouse said in June. “So he shouldn’t have authority on being in this discussion and have a vote.”
ETZ history
The Roswell-Chaves County Extraterritorial Zone is land within about 2 miles of Roswell city limits. The zone was created by city and county leaders in 1980 to lessen street congestion, provide safety from fire and flood waters, prevent overcrowding, abate unsightly buildings and other stated purposes.
The ETZ Commission, an appointed citizen board, administers the ETZ ordinance, including considering requests for zoning changes within the ETZ zone.
The ETZ Commission on May 12 voted 4-2 in favor of a change of industrial zoning use to allow Pecos Valley Pharmaceuticals to convert the Nature’s Dairy plant into an indoor pot farm.
The county planning and zoning staff recommended approval of the zoning change, under several stipulations, including that the facility be in compliance with all state regulations.
Marlin Johnson, director of the Chaves County Planning & Zoning Department, said in a staff report the proposed pot farm “represents economic development in an area where needed.”
“The proposed uses are generally compatible with the comprehensive plan and neighboring land uses,” Johnson reported. “The development should enhance the visual character of the neighborhood.”
Cannabis dissent
Several residents voiced biblical, moral, ethical, social, health, criminal, security, property value, privacy and image concerns at the May 12 ETZ Commission meeting that went late into the night, with an hour-and-a-half discussion alone on the pot farm.
Only two people spoke in favor of the proposal during the public hearing.
Decisions of the seven-member ETZ Commission, six of whom are appointed by the Chaves County commissioners and Roswell city councilors, may be appealed to the ETZ Authority, the upper body of elected leaders, and then in state court.
Terry R. Johnson II has formerly appealed the May 12 ETZ Commission decision, saying the proposed pot farm would be unhealthy for young minds, stigmatize Roswell, potentially increase crime, devalue nearby properties, provide a dishonest environment and have negative economic, social and moral impacts.
“By locating a medical marijuana facility on the South Main corridor, I feel it would be a detriment to the property value of the surrounding area.” Terry Johnson wrote the ETZ commission in May.
Greathouse told the ETZ Commission at the May 12 hearing there would be no medical marijuana sold at the proposed facility, no one would be allowed inside except employees and the facility would improve the south side area.
“If you don’t know the facts and you’re trying to make a decision on your morals, that has nothing to do with it,” said Greathouse, who says the 9,000-square-foot former dairy plant would make an ideal indoor medical marijuana growing facility. “You can’t tell me the way it sits right now is any nicer than what we can put into it to make it look a lot nicer.”
Terry Johnson told the ETZ Commission he is concerned the proposed pot farm would stigmatize Roswell and encourage criminal activity.
“The northwest corner of the property also serves as the bus stop for the children of the residential area of the Claude Allison Acres subdivision, which is located approximately 60 feet from the proposed site,” Johnson wrote in his letter of objection. “I feel that just the appearance of this site is unhealthy for young minds. As a business owner located immediately northeast of this location, I am very concerned for the potential increase in crime and that this facility would be an invasion to those individuals who circle themselves around a dishonest environment.”
Greathouse said he deserves the benefit of the doubt given that his family has invested in the community for decades.
“I just feel that my family, who has been there the last 35 years in business, that we would get a little more credit in trying to establish ourselves because we’ve established ourselves for the last 35 years in what we’ve put into the community,” Greathouse told the ETZ Commission.
The chairman of the ETZ commission, Royce “Pancho” Maples, who voted in favor of the zoning change, was removed from the ETZ Commission in late May by the county commissioners, although Maples had expressed a desire to continue to serve on the commission and had been recommended for reappointment by the Chaves County Planning & Zoning Department.
1:7 odds
The ETZ Commission’s May 12 approval did not ensure the cannabis production facility would go forward, but it did boost the chances of Pecos Valley Pharmaceuticals of receiving a license from the New Mexico Department of Health to grow medical marijuana, said Kevin Cheney, a consultant for the pharmaceutical company.
Kenny Vigil, a spokesperson for the Department of Health, said this week that the state agency is still reviewing 84 applications from licensed non-profit producers to add to the state’s existing 23 medical pot farms, which supply the state’s medical marijuana dispensaries.
“While there is no specific timeline for making a selection, I can tell you that the review process is moving along,” Vigil said Wednesday.
Cheney said the state is going to grant 12 new licenses from among the 84 applications, which were due May 1, giving the pharmaceutical company a theoretical one-in-seven chance of receiving one of the state licenses.
None of the state’s current 23 medical marijuana production facilities are in southeast New Mexico, although medical marijuana dispensaries exist in Roswell and elsewhere in the region.
No new producers have been approved by the Department of Health since 2010, which is adding licensed producers to increase the availability of medical cannabis to qualified patients in the Medical Cannabis Program.
Greathouse has said a decision by the Department of Health on his company’s application could come at any time.
“That’s the hard thing about the process that we’re in. It’s kind of a waiting game right now,” Greathouse said in June.
Terry Johnson’s appeal hearing has been delayed from June to August at the request of Pecos Valley Pharmaceuticals, said Chaves County Manager Stanton Riggs, because of its potential futility.
The proposed facility would grow up to 450 marijuana plants indoors, not sell to the public, have discreet signage and tight security, Jeff McWhorter, the chief financial officer for Pecos Valley Pharmaceuticals, said at the May 12 ETZ Commission hearing.
McWhorter said the facility would employ 10 to 15 people and generate an estimated $20 million in its first five years, with $1.5 million to $1.7 million of gross receipt taxes.
Medical marijuana growers must disclose to the DOH the number of anticipated plants, the method of cultivation, such as greenhouse, hydroponic, indoor or outdoor, and other details of operations, including the facility’s square footage, layout and security plan. The applications remain confidential.
There were 16,236 New Mexico residents enrolled in the state’s medical cannabis program as of July 30, including 318 cardholders in Chaves County, 299 in Eddy County, 174 in Lea County, 56 in Roosevelt County, 19 in De Baca County, 263 in Lincoln County and 307 in Otero County.
New transparency
The Department of Health has not made public the location of dispensaries or pot farms, although Gov. Susana Martinez in July announced a new policy. The governor has directed the state agency to change its long-standing confidentiality policy that kept the names and locations of medical marijuana dispensaries and growing operations confidential.
“I think what you’re going to know is certainly the name of the company, where it can be purchased with your prescription, and who was awarded with this last round,” the governor told the Daily Record during a July 7 interview.
The governor said the names and locations of all medical marijuana dispensaries and farms would soon be made public and local residents would be notified about the application status of Pecos Valley Pharmaceuticals.
“We saw there was really no good reason for that and people should know, so we are going to make that public,” the governor said.
The names of existing medical marijuana dispensaries and growers have been kept confidential since the state’s medical marijuana law was enacted in 2007.
“We’ll tell you who receives them, of course, and who has them and where they are,” Martinez said. “Sure, absolutely, because people have to know.”
The governor said local authorities have zoning authority, but state law is written so that cities and counties do not have the authority to ban state-approved medical marijuana operations.
“You cannot prohibit because it is medical marijuana and it has certain regulations,” she said. “But it will go back to the community for where it can be planted or not.”
Staff Writer Jeff Tucker may be contacted at 575-622-7710, ext. 303, or at reporter01@rdrnews.com.

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