SNOWFLAKE, AZ – Just a three-hour drive from Phoenix is one of the largest adult and medical marijuana farms in North America.
Copperstate Farmslocated in Snowflake, Arizona, began operations in September 2016. The farm initially produced medical marijuana and expanded to include growing recreational pot for adult use when Proposition 207 was 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 colorful peppers, he told ABC15.
“After about 15 years, I was looking for my next project, so to speak, and, and it was around the same time that, what they call the green revolution was starting to happen in the United States, and specifically in Arizona,” Symington IV said.
Symington IV began developing a business plan and looking for land to build a greenhouse in Arizona.
“I came across a 40 acre facility here in Snowflake that was already built and was empty. And it was like the stars had aligned,” Symington IV said.
The 40 acres of empty greenhouse was previously used to grow tomatoes and cucumbers by Nature Sweet. But in 2015, the company moved its operations to Willcox, Arizona, resulting in a loss of jobs at Snowflake.
“When the facility closed, it had a very significant impact on the city’s economy,” said Barb Hansen, quality assurance manager at Copperstate Farms.
Hansen previously worked in the greenhouse before joining the team at Copperstate Farms. A resident of Snowflake since 2009, Hansen saw the town change when the paper mill closed in 2012, followed by the greenhouse’s closure in 2015.
“When it 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 “filled with adults who couldn’t find jobs because a lot of the top employers here had disappeared.”
“There were other businesses in town that just couldn’t survive because these things happened,” Hansen said.
Before Copperstate could open, Symington had to get approval from the Snowflake City Council.
A few minutes from a August 2018 City Council show that some residents of Snowflake opposed the establishment of the medicinal marijuana farm, citing concerns about addiction and community safety. But others argued that the farm would create jobs and help the city’s economic development.
After hearing arguments from both sides, the city council voted 4 to 3 to approve the special use permit Symington IV needed to open Copperstate Farms.
“The day we got this Special Use Permit, I started accepting resumes,” Symington IV said.
Copperstate now employs 350 people in Snowflake, according to Symington IV, making it one of the largest employers in the city. The farm also produces more than 200,000 dry pounds of cannabis annually, Symington IV said, making it the largest wholesaler in the state.
“We started with five acres of 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.”