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Marijuana farm creates job growth in Arizona town

Posted at 7:00 PM, May 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-12 17:34:48-04

SNOWFLAKE, AZ — Just a three-hour drive from Phoenix sits one of the largest adult-use and medical marijuana farms in North America.

Copperstate Farms, located in Snowflake, Arizona, began operating in September 2016. The farm initially produced medicinal marijuana and grew to include the growth of adult-use recreational pot when Proposition 207 passed in November 2020.

Copperstate Farms and the 40-acre greenhouse are owned and operated by Fife Symington IV, the son of former Arizona governor, Fife Symington III.

Symington IV spent 15 years working in greenhouse agriculture, growing tomatoes, cucumbers, and colored bell peppers, he told ABC15.

“After about 15 years, I was looking for my next project, so to speak, and, and it was right around the same time that the, what they call the Green Revolution was starting to happen in the United States, and specifically in Arizona,” Symington IV said.

Symington IV began putting together a business plan and looking for land to build a greenhouse in Arizona.

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“I came across a 40-acre facility here in Snowflake that was already built and was sitting empty. And it was as if the stars had aligned,” Symington IV said.

The 40 acres of empty greenhouse space was previously used to grow tomatoes and cucumbers by Nature Sweet. But in 2015, the company moved its operations to Willcox, Arizona, leading to job loss within Snowflake.

“When the facility closed down, it had a very significant impact on the economy of the town,” said Barb Hansen, the Director of Quality Assurance at Copperstate Farms.

Hansen previously worked at the greenhouse prior to joining the team at Copperstate Farms. A resident of Snowflake since 2009, Hansen saw the town change when the paper mill shut down in 2012, followed by the closure of the greenhouse in 2015.

“When this first started, you know, there were people who couldn't find jobs anywhere,” Hansen said.

According to Hansen, entry-level jobs at McDonald's and Circle K were being “filled by adults who couldn't find a job because a lot of the main employers up here were gone.”

“There were other businesses within the town that just couldn't survive because those things happened,” Hansen said.

Before Copperstate could open, Symington needed to get approval from Snowflake’s town council.

Minutes from an August 2018 town council meeting show some residents in Snowflake opposed the creation of the medicinal marijuana farm, citing concerns about addiction and the safety of the community. But others argued the farm would create jobs and contribute to the town’s economic development.

After hearing arguments from both sides, the town council voted 4-3 to approve the special use permit Symington IV needed to open Copperstate Farms.

“The day that we got that special use permit, I started accepting resumes,” Symington IV said.

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Copperstate now employs 350 people in Snowflake, according to Symington IV, making it one of the largest employers in town. The farm also produces over 200,000 dry pounds of cannabis a year, Symington IV said, making it the largest wholesaler in the state.

“We started with five acres of the greenhouse in production. And now we have all 40 acres in production,” Symington IV said. “So, we do in a month the volume that we did our entire first year.”