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A Religious Community and the Weed Farm in the Middle of It

  • May 06, 2021

“It was kind of like running a grass-roots political campaign,” Mr. Symington said. “I talked to everybody who would listen to me. I went to the Chamber of Commerce lunches and to Rotary breakfasts.” He promised to hire at least 130 people and pay them a starting wage of $15 an hour. Over and over, he said that he was not asking anyone to adjudicate whether marijuana should be legalized; that was up to the state.

He knew that the consumer demand for marijuana was there. Arizona had legalized medical marijuana several years earlier, and by the end of 2015, nearly 90,000 state residents had joined the program, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. (That number has more than tripled since.)

The town held several public hearings. Opinions were mixed. Some people worried that products cultivated in the greenhouse would make their way into the community; others were concerned that marijuana was still illegal on a federal level. A few suggested having a referendum instead of allowing the City Council to make the call.

Barbara Hansen, who is now a manager at Copperstate Farms, spoke in favor of the marijuana farm, according to the minutes from one hearing. “People talking about the impact on kids need to address their concerns at home,” she said at the meeting. “If they are going to do drugs and cannot get their hands on marijuana, they will pull them out of parent’s medicine cabinet and the drugs there are more damaging and addictive than marijuana.”

On the opposing side, Lowry Flake focused on his broader fears. “George Soros put money behind marijuana because his end goal is incrementalism, to destroy us, to make all drugs legal — that will make us as a people weak and that means we can be controlled by the elite,” Mr. Flake said. Mr. Soros, a billionaire philanthropist who is frequently the target of conspiracy theories, has given money to cannabis legalization campaigns around the country, including one in Arizona in 1996. That campaign, as it happens, was opposed by the state’s governor at the time: Mr. Symington’s father.

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