By Ray Stern
J.P. Holyoak cuts an intense presence as he prepares to guide news media members and a couple of local state representatives through his medical-marijuana cultivation facility.
He appears even more stressed than the average late-30s man with three kids should be. Standing outside the nondescript brick-and-concrete industrial building in a complex of similar buildings near Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Holyoak makes reporters and TV cameramen promise to keep the address of the facility secret before entering.
He lightens up only as he spells his name for everyone: “A Bible and a tree,” he says with a grin before going back to his worried look.
He’s not thrilled with going forward like this, he says, and he’s concerned about how his family will be accepted in the community.
Holyoak’s been a financial adviser since 1998, and he’s an “unapologetic conservative Republican,” he says.
He doesn’t want to discuss or answer questions about recreational marijuana, he adds.
This comes off as a snub to one of the lawmakers on the tour, state Representative Ruben Gallego, a Democrat from Phoenix, who floated a bill this legislative session that would legalize marijuana and regulate it like alcohol.
Holyoak’s not fawning over the other lawmaker who showed up, either — Democratic state Representative Juan Mendez of Phoenix. Yet he shows less respect for at least one member of his chosen party: “Kavanagh disgusts me,” he seethes.
He’s referring to Representative John Kavanagh, a Republican from Fountain Hills, who once told New Times that his proposed repeal of Arizona’s voter-approved 2010 medical-marijuana law would include no exceptions for cancer patients or anyone else.
“This should be a Republican issue, not a Democratic issue,” Holyoak says. “It’s a healthcare issue — and why play politics with people’s health?”
Holyoak’s an agent and board member of Arizona Natural Selections, a nonprofit company that runs two medical-pot dispensaries authorized by the state Department of Health Services, one in Cave Creek and the other in Peoria. The grow operation near the airport is expected to supply weed sold at both shops and excess product can be legally sold at wholesale prices to other registered Arizona dispensaries.
A former manufacturing facility for convenience-store sandwiches, the edifice is a sprawling, low building with a cavernous basement and large passageways. The structure appears under-utilized by the operation, with perhaps more than half the floor space unused and devoid of furnishings or equipment. Paint’s peeling off the bricks in some spots, and there’s a patina of dinginess from age — it’d be a good choice of location for a scary movie.
But the sections used by the growing operation are immaculate. One hallway contains two large water tanks and an expensive-looking filtration system. Several large rooms are set up for growing marijuana: one for clones (the “babies”), one for “teens,” and, finally, the flowering room, where hundreds of plants puffy with young buds stand in rows of pots. The operation’s first yield is still a few weeks away.
The nursery has been made spotless for the tour — not so much as a trimming on the white, newly epoxied floor. It’s a professional-looking grow room, with custom-made wheeled steel walkways between rows of plants to make it easy to care for them. The produce is organic, with no pesticides being used. There is a variety of top-notch medical-grade strains, workers say, including three high-cannabidiol, low-THC varieties said to provide therapeutic effects without much of the typical high of marijuana.
Andrew Myers, head of the Arizona Medical-Marijuana Dispensary Association and former representative of the Marijuana Policy Project, which was responsible for putting the successful 2010 citizens’ initiative on the ballot, says the company has put “more than $5 million” into the cultivation facility.
Holyoak, however, doesn’t want to talk about such numbers, or things like the estimated annual yield of the operation. What he does want to talk about is his daughter, Reese.
After the group has taken in the stoner’s-paradise of a flowering room, the mood of the tour grows heavy as 5-year-old Reese is rolled into a hallway in her modified stroller, pushed by one of her therapists. Reese is the source of Holyoak’s seriousness, it turns out.
She’s a very cute kid. But she doesn’t talk and has the mental capabilities of a toddler. She’s the reason Holyoak got into the medical-marijuana business, he says, and she’s why he believes it must succeed despite the rhetoric of politicians like Kavanagh and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.
“Some state legislators want to repeal the law,” Holyoak tells the lawmakers and reporters. “I want to introduce them to Reese so they know who they’re hurting.”
Reese has Aicardi syndrome, a rare condition that affects only about 500 Americans, he says. Reese is beating the odds in terms of her developmental delay — she can walk a few steps with assistance and has learned “more” in and other words in sign language. The average life expectancy of someone with the syndrome is 8, her father says.
The girl, Holyoak and his wife’s oldest of three, had been having 25-plus seizures a day but now has far fewer, he says. She’s demonstrating higher abilities than the average kid with Aicardi syndrome, and her physicians are amazed, Holyoak says.
He implies heavily that Reese’s gains are because of medical marijuana, but he won’t confirm that. If he’s giving Reese the sort of concentrated marijuana that Montgomery claims is still a felony in Arizona even for qualified patients, he has a good reason to worry. As New Times has reported, the ACLU of Arizona is suing over Montgomery’s policy, based on the illogical assumption that a concentrate of marijuana is not marijuana.
If Holyoak’s really just in it for the money, it’s a hell of an act. (He says he’s far from making money on his investment, so far, anyway.)
The Republican Party, whose oldest members are the state’s die-hard foes of legal marijuana for any reason, statistically speaking, needs more convincing about the apparent benefits and relatively low risks of medical marijuana, Myers tells the media.
Holyoak, a right-winger, businessman, and father of a girl whose treatment could be denied only by the heartless, might be the one to convince them.