CUMBERLAND — Officials with Grow West MD, LLC are considering a new site in Garrett County for the firm’s proposed medical cannabis growing operation.
Representatives of Grow West, who were granted a stage one growing license by the state in August, had planned to locate the operation in the Keyser’s Ridge Business Park, west of Grantsville. Grow West officials entered into a tentative agreement in October to develop 15 acres at the Keyser’s Ridge site.
However, issues with timeline requirements for opening an operation at Keyser’s Ridge has led Grow West officials to consider another site along U.S Route 219 outside Accident. The site, which currently includes a structure, is the former location of a Kubota tractor sales business near Aiken Miller Road.
Grow West is owned by the Valois family of Frederick. The family’s proposed cannabis growing operation was one of 15 stage one licenses issued in Maryland.
The decision by the Valois family to consider the site near Accident has been a cause for concern by some neighbors in the area. Officials have heard from constituents who fear the possibility of a foul odor from the operation. Concerns also include the alleged “visual impact” a high security facility might project for the community.
“I’ve been getting a lot of calls,” said Del. Wendell Beitzel. “I’m looking into it. Accident is my hometown. My inclination is to not support it (the new location). But I will try to talk to the family and see what the facts are before I take a position one way or another.”
Members of the Valois family are hoping to schedule a public meeting with the Accident mayor and City Council in the near future to address any concerns.
The Valois family has been conducting business in Maryland for more than 40 years. Taking part in the medical cannabis venture are patriarch and grandfather William Valois and his son and daughter Susan and William Valois and their five children: James, Andrew, William, Alison and Caroline.
The agreement for the Keyser’s Ridge site has become essentially moot since it was based on final approval. The state issues approval for growers in stages with a final approval coming only after final inspections of the facility are conducted.
“They are basically free agents at this point for lack of a better term,” said Paul Edwards, chairman of the Board of Garrett County Commissioners. “The agreement depended on them obtaining a (final stage state approved) license.”
Members of the Valois family said, in a Times-News interview on Wednesday, the site at Keyser’s Ridge posed problems.
“After the awarding of the stage one license we had an engineer look at it and it became problematic with the timeline,” said Andrew Valois, “so we began looking around.”
Andrew Valois said winter conditions were also going to result in delays for the project.
“It needs to be able to support what we are trying to accomplish at the location for the long term,” said Andrew Valois. “If it couldn’t be in three years, say, and not able to grow and expand at the pace we need, then that is problem for us.”
“There is a general timeline that licensees are trying to follow,” said Darren Weiss, attorney for the Valois family. “There is a back and forth (with the state) and they will require inspections.”
Andrew said the new site appears to meet the needs of the business. The members of the family did not want to elaborate on the new site to maintain privacy for stakeholders in the area.
Edwards, Beitzel and the Valois family all said they recognize the positive impact the growing operation will have for the economy in the region and for patients who will receive the medicinal products.
Grow West is expected to employ 40 people initially with above-minimum-wage jobs and benefits available.
The Valois family said a public meeting will allow citizens to air any concerns they may have over the proposed location.
“We would like the opportunity to meet with as many people as possible so we can have the opportunity to assuage any fears and concerns they may have,” said Andrew Valois. “This (industry) has been heavily regulated in Maryland. Once people hear and understand ... I think their fears should be lessened greatly.”
“We want to be as transparent as possible,” said William Valois. “We want to talk with people. We want to be a part of the community. We are interested in bringing opportunity there. We want to be members of the community and to fit in with the environment.”
“I deal with this industry a lot,” said Weiss. “There is unfortunately a lot of misinformation about the medical and social benefits this will bring. There is so much good these businesses will bring.”
“It is not just good paying jobs,” said Andrew. “The jobs that will make a difference to people lives. It will make a difference to other people who need this medication and have run out of options. It is something the community can be proud of and we can be proud of.”
“We are a family that has lived in Maryland our entire lives,” said William Valois. “We are not looking to make anyone’s life difficult. We want to bring something that benefits everyone.”
Follow staff writer Greg Larry on Twitter @GregLarryCTN.