Medical marijuana grow facility south of Tucson laying off 103 workers
A medical marijuana grow facility in Amado notified Santa Cruz and Pima counties last week that it is laying off 103 employees.
The announcement comes amid reports that medical marijuana sales in Arizona have plummeted as recreational sales spike.
Thursday's notice from Nature AZ Medicine is required under the federal WARN Act, which provides employees with a 60-day notice before a mass layoff or plant closing. The employees' last day is Oct. 24, according to a Notice of Layoffs sent to officials in both counties.
According to the notice, the layoffs include 43 cultivation production technicians and 32 post-harvest production technicians along with managers and facilities and maintenance techs.
Nature AZ Medicine's parent company AMMA Investment Group, did not respond to multiple requests for comment Friday. The notice indicates the facility will remain open but doesn't included the total number of employees.
MMJ sales drop
Arizona voters approved medical marijuana in 2010, and the industry saw rapid growth. In 2013, Arizona dispensaries sold 6,000 pounds of medical marijuana valued at $33 million. In 2014, the volume had grown to 20,000 pounds and $112 million, according to annual reports from the Arizona Department of Health Services.
In 2020, state voters approved recreational marijuana, and medical sales started struggling soon after. In May, medical cannabis sales marked seven consecutive months of falling sales, to just below $45 million, the lowest since January 2021, when adults were first allowed to purchase recreational marijuana. Meanwhile, recreational sales hit $76.5 million in May, the fifth time that figure was higher than $70 million. April set a sales record at $81.2 million.
Santa Cruz County Supervisor Bruce Bracker acknowledged the layoffs will affect employees and their families but said it won't have a major effect on the county workforce due, in part, to produce industry jobs that will open up in the fall.
"There's going to be work available. I'm not sure if it's going to be the same salary range that they were making at the grow facility because I don't know what those salaries were," Bracker said.
Stanley Danielson, 31, of Rio Rico was among those laid off Thursday. The facility, which opened in 2015 and expanded in 2018, will keep the affected employees on its payroll through Oct. 24.
"We didn't know who exactly was going to get laid off at that moment, but they announced that the recently employed people here — that they were going to lay them off," Danielson said Friday, describing an employee meeting. "They let us know one by one, and we were lined up in a line. Each person went into the office with the higher-ups, and one by one we would see people walk out with a pamphlet."
Danielson speculated that the layoff was the result of the quality of marijuana the facility was producing for the Phoenix-area based dispensaries it supplies.
"I think it had a lot to do with the profit because what's happening here is that a lot of the (product) is getting really bad. The quality of the strains of the marijuana we grow here, it started going bad," Danielson said. "So, what ended up happening in Phoenix, where they have the main dispensary, they weren't able to sell as much as the quality stuff anymore, and they had to start selling stuff for lower prices."
Another laid-off employee who declined to give a name had another take on it.
"It might be more competition, and now that there's more competition, they gotta up their quality," the employee said.
Bracker said the county will provide services to laid off workers including training and help with resumes and job searches.
"If the facility allows us, we'll go out to the facility and start interviewing and providing services to the members who are going to be separated from their jobs," he said.
As for Danielson, "I'm definitely going to file for unemployment," he said. "This is the best job that I've had, as of recent. It's really hard to find jobs in the Santa Cruz area, but I am. I'm gonna have to look for another job."
This report was originally published by the Green Valley News. The Arizona Mirror contributed to this story.