County vote opens door on outdoor marijuana grow

A split vote by the Pinal County Board of Supervisors approved a text change that will pave the way for a Casa Grande dairy to grow marijuana.

Sidewinder Dairy, owned by Sean Dugan, is planning to cultivate marijuana for medical use. The issue divided politicians and farmers alike.

“I’m a very strong supporter of farmers and their quest and freedom to grow the crops that they choose,” District 3 Supervisor Anthony Smith said.

Smith requested two compromises to the proposed amendment before he, District 3 Supervisor Stephen Miller and District 5 Supervisor Todd House voted to approve the ordinance.

The original proposal was for growing marijuana on 10 acres and to be reviewed after two years. As approved, the allowable acres-per-site was diminished to five acres, with the operation to be reviewed after one year.

The proposal of Sidewinder Dairy as a marijuana cultivation site must come back before the board. The ordinance approved Wednesday allows the outdoor cultivation of medical marijuana with a special use permit and adds larger setbacks from residential areas.

The county’s planning commission, on a 9-1 vote, had recommended denying the amendment. County Attorney Lando Voyles sent in a letter in opposition, as did Maricopa’s Peggy Chapados.

During Wednesday’s meeting of the board, several residents spoke in opposition, and several others had their names entered in support.

Sharon Boyd of the Coolidge Youth Coalition said she came from a farming lineage of cotton, corn and watermelons. “We grew crops to feed people. We grew crops to clothe people. We did not grow a drug,” she said. “We would have starved before we would have grown marijuana.”

She said she did not want the county to have the new logo: “Marijuana, the crop that saved Pinal County.”

After the planning commission vote and a work session with the Board of Supervisors, county staff met with the Dugan family and their agents and came up with the third alternative for the requirements. Though the ordinance has countywide implications, the Rose Law Group, representing Sidewinder, played a major role in hammering out the details.

“It’s not about medical marijuana; it’s about private property rights,” Jordan Rose said. She said the ordinance was only a minor text change. Sidewinder, she added, would be an “hourly surveilled, night-vision operation.”

The plan is for 10-foot walls. The growers would be required to give the sheriff’s office three-days notice of any harvest or transportation of the product.

Smith said he wanted to keep a close watch on it because the “experimental nature of the cultivation.”

House, who engaged in a brusque exchange with Casa Grande Alliance Chairman Thomas Anderson, called it “a grand experiment” because marijuana cannot grow well above 80 degrees.

“Whether you like it or not, medical marijuana has been voted on and is the law of the land,” House said.

He said those who worry about the impact on children should classify potatoes as a drug because of obesity issues from eating french fries.

Both sides produced petitions with signatures representing hundreds of people.

Smith said he did not vote for the legalization of medical marijuana, but the supervisors “were forced into this situation by the voters.”

District 1 Supervisor Pete Rios, who ended up voting against the amendment along with Chairperson Cheryl Chase, also said public sentiment had swung in favor of medical marijuana.

“It’s an industry that’s out there, and the train has left the station,” he said. “We’ve lost the battle on medical marijuana. That’s why it makes it difficult for those in elected office to try and stop a train.”

Chapados said she did not agree. She said that stand was an attempt to pass the buck back to the voters. “The voters approved the use of medical marijuana, not the cultivation of it or the location,” she said. “That was on the Board of Supervisors.”

She said the issue initially was about allowing 217 times greater than state statute required as a maximum, going from an enclosed building to a 10-acre farm. “Don’t try to push that back on the voters,” she said.

Chapados said the board had more research and vetting to do on the issue.


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