Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Harvest Inc.’s 35,000-square-foot marijuana grow facility in Camp Verde is not its existence, but the acknowledgement by the company’s top executive that the community has a right to be concerned.
“The town will continue to be protective, and they should be,” Harvest CEO Steve White said, adding that in his view the permitting process to establish the facility took longer than he expected it would. “I think that’s representative of government officials and employees doing the best things in the interest of their residents. The town has been fair and professional, but the leadership and employees were initially concerned about this use.
“Camp Verde wasn’t a town necessarily that welcomed us with open arms .... I don’t think that attitude of trying to protect the community has changed [but] over time people start accepting it and realizing this is helpful to the community.”
Camp Verde Town Manager Russ Martin countered the claim that the permitting process had taken longer than usual, saying that, “My interactions with them have been nothing but positive. We felt pretty good about the process [but] we do things by the books .... It’s a new business and we appreciate it like we appreciate any new business.”
According to White, Harvest — an Arizona corporation that holds medical marijuana dispensary, cultivation and production licenses in Arizona, Nevada and Illinois, as well as preliminary approval to cultivate and dispense medical marijuana in Maryland — operates from a fundamentally conservative standpoint and has purposefully not sought markets in states that have legalized recreational marijuana.
“We’re not in any states currently that allow recreational,” White said. “As a company, we’re not opposed to it if it’s done correctly [but] we don’t believe Arizona should look like Colorado ..... Most of us are conservative. We believe Arizona’s first step should be a small, more controlled step into legalization.”
The grow facility in Camp Verde, at 2051 State Route 260, is comprised of 35,000 square feet of cultivation space and 3.3 acres of outdoor growing space. The facility is up and running, though it is neither filled to capacity with product nor completely staffed.
“We currently employ just over 20 people at the facility,” White said, adding that he expects the majority of employees — including management, individuals with extensive growing backgrounds and general labor staff, all of whom must pass a criminal background check — will live in the Verde Valley. “In short order, that number will increase to more than 40 .... It’s like any other agriculture or manufacturing facility. They all need to be hard workers.”
White added he has no estimate of the amount of medical marijuana the facility will grow, only that the facility will produce product for sale in Harvest’s dispensaries in Tempe and Scottsdale. As per state and federal law, all sales tax generated by the dispensary will go to either Tempe or Scottsdale. In addition, a grower cannot transport marijuana across state lines.
“That is a giant no-no, which makes the industry incredibly inefficient,” White said of this last point. “Instead of growing it where it grows best, we have to find the best place in the state to grow it.”
Choosing an appropriate place to grow in Arizona, however, was a no-brainer: According to White, “the Verde Valley is one spot that has historically been a good agricultural area. It’s got good access to Phoenix and it’s conveniently located near a major highway.”
White said that the facility was built specifically for Camp Verde’s elevation and climate. Currently, White has no plans to expand the facility on the substantial acreage of land his company owns, but he is not ruling it out.
Security concerns at the facility, White added, are minimal.
“First of all, if they broke in there’s nothing to get .... It’s a very inefficient thing to steal [and] we don’t have any money on site,” White said, adding that the property is under close surveillance 24 hours a day, every day. “There’s no more secure facility in Camp Verde .... If somebody was silly enough to break in, they would have a lot of challenges.”
According to White, there has not been a “single security incident” among the facilities it has operated since 2010.
White said that state law forbids him from marketing marijuana for any one specific condition, but that the medical marijuana the company grows has been selected for a variety of features.
“What we are looking for is different cannabinoid profiles that work for qualifying conditions,” White said, adding that one or two of the strains his company grows are known not to increase appetite. In addition, a lot of epileptic patients find relief from their seizures by using medical marijuana. “We’ll grow in Camp Verde a strain of marijuana people could use in very high doses and not get high.
“It’s very high in CBD [cannabidiol]. Those are the types of products people dealing with epilepsy gravitate toward.”