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Family hopes medical manufacturing site is approved; Closed Nature’s Dairy plant would be leased site if elected officials agree

The former Nature's Dairy bottling plant on South Main Street has been closed since 2014. One of its owners wants authorization to lease it to a manufacturer of medical marijuana. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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A local property owner and his family hopes that area attitudes have changed enough during the past two years that elected officials now will allow a South Main Street location in Roswell to be used for a medical marijuana business.

“When we came on board two years, two and half years ago, everybody had this perception of what it is,” said Clinton Greathouse about pharmaceutical cannabis. “But, you know, I think everything has evolved in terms of education and continuing to educate not only doctors but people in the community about the benefits of this,” Greathouse said.

He explained that he represents his father, Gerald Greathouse, regarding the southside property that is the subject of a land use application, due to be considered at a Jan. 16 meeting of the Roswell-Chaves County Extraterritorial Zoning Commission.

The current Greathouse family request differs from the original application, rejected by elected officials in 2015.

In the current application, Gerald Greathouse, one of the owners of the former Nature’s Dairy Inc. bottling plant in the 5100 block of South Main Street, is asking the commission to allow the property to be used by a licensed medical cannabis manufacturer, which would lease the property and its facilities.

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In the 2015 matter, the Greathouse family asked the ETZ to allow their company, Pecos Valley Pharmaceuticals, to grow marijuana for medical purposes on the 8.2-acre property.

At that time, the commission, made up of citizens appointed by elected officials, recommended approval, but the matter then went to the Roswell-Chaves County Extraterritorial Zoning Authority, which denied the application. Pecos Valley Pharmaceuticals later located its marijuana farming business to East Hobson Road.

The authority consists of elected officials from both the county and the city and has jurisdiction over land within two miles of the city limits. Members this year are Chaves County Commissioners Robert Corn, James Duffey and Will Cavin and Roswell City Councilors Tabitha Denny and Juan Oropesa.

The current application is coming just as the federal environment concerning marijuana use has been thrown into flux.

The U.S. Department of Justice led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday that it will reverse Obama-era policies and allow prosecutors to enforce federal laws against cultivation, distribution and consumption even in states that allow marijuana use for either recreational or medicinal purposes.

Only four states completely prohibit marijuana use. Eight states and the District of Columbia allow both recreational and medicinal use. Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia allow pot or its derivatives for pharmaceutical purposes.

Previous Obama-era guidance documents, sometimes referred to as the Cole memo, gave federal prosecutors latitude to ignore marijuana activities in states that had legalized its use.

Exactly how the change in Justice Department guidelines will effect the nation’s billion-dollar cannabis industry is unknown. New Mexico has allowed the medicinal use of marijuana since 2007, and the state Department of Health indicates that there are now 12 licensed manufacturers and 35 licensed producers and distributors, with 46,645 patients registered at the end of December 2017.

Several federal and state legislators belonging to both the Republican and Democratic parties expressed opposition to the Justice Department decision, with some talking about the benefits the pharmaceuticals have provided for cancer patients or people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In New Mexico, cannabis is authorized for use for 20 medical conditions, with physicians able to seek permission to prescribe it in other situations.

Clinton Greathouse said that the current request does not involve Pecos Valley Pharmaceuticals, which also operates a West Country Club Road store to distribute medical cannabis products to those with prescriptions.

Instead, he said, the new application is meant to repurpose land and facilities that have stood idle since 2014, as well as provide a cannabis manufacturing enterprise in the southeastern part of the state.

“My father has been approached by multiple producers to do manufacturing, and he is trying to figure out if he can get it reused for that purpose,” Greathouse said. “So it has nothing to do with Pecos Valley.”

Greathouse said that the Nature’s Dairy location makes sense for the purpose because it is already set up for manufacturing and is approved by the Federal Drug Administration.

“The property has been sitting there vacant for three years, coming up on four years,” Greathouse said. “We want to be able to utilize it for something. It is kind of ridiculous, especially considering the amount of volume that can come back to Roswell.”

He explained that marijuana producers, including Pecos Valley Pharmaceuticals, now ship the oil extracted from their plants to manufacturers in other areas of the state, primarily in northern New Mexico, because no licensed manufacturers operate in the southeastern New Mexico. Manufacturers use the oils to create the marketed pharmaceuticals, which can include edibles, concentrates and CBDs, or cannabidiols, which do not have the psychoactive components of marijuana.

The New Mexico Department of Health, which regulates the medical cannabis industry in the state, indicates that licensed producers harvested 5,587 plants for third-quarter 2017, July through September, the most recent figures available.

Those plants yielded 2.74 million usable units. Of the usable units, 1.58 million were sold during 110,072 transactions. A usable unit is described as one gram of the dried plants or flowers or 200 milligrams of THC in cannabis products.

“So it would generate a lot,” Greathouse said. “I am not going to speak in numbers, but it would generate a lot in keeping manufacturing here in Roswell instead of taking all our business to Albuquerque.”

Chaves County has seen an upsurge in patients in recent years. The county had 1,406 registered patients at the end of 2017, a 79 percent increase from year-end 2016 when patients numbered 785 and a 228.5 percent increase compared to year-end 2015 with total patients of 428. In 2012, the county had 151 patients.

Greathouse said the family has not talked with local officials or neighboring property owners about their current land use request, but will wait for the ETZ meeting to see if opinions have changed.

That meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at the Chaves County Administrative Center, 1 St. Mary’s Place, in Roswell.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.