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San Manuel's fortune was once tied to copper mining. Some want marijuana to be its revival

By Matthew Casey
Published: Thursday, June 22, 2023 - 4:46am
Updated: Thursday, June 22, 2023 - 9:34am

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marijuana processing
Matthew Casey/KJZZ
Employees with the Flower Shop AZ sort marijuana buds inside the company's San Manuel grow facility.

Two huge smelter stacks once stood for San Manuel’s existence in the San Pedro River Valley.

But a nearby copper mine suddenly closed in 1999. And home video recorded people's sadness as the town’s identifying features were demolished in 2007.

The smelter stacks fell in unison and then simultaneously broke in half before hitting the ground. With them and the mine had gone good jobs that were why San Manuel was even built.

Today, marijuana plants are replacing the old smelter stacks as symbols of local industry. Cannabis entrepreneurs want to make San Manuel a company town once more.

The Flower Shop AZ took reporters on a tour of its huge indoor grow operation in San Manuel. KJZZ News met brothers who moved to this once prosperous mining town to work in the often loud environment of raising and harvesting cannabis.

marijuana plants
Matthew Casey/KJZZ
Depending on the growth stage, marijuana grow rooms are kept either warm and humid or cold and dry.

Irrigation systems and high-powered lights churn a constant background roar in the cavernous marijuana grow rooms. Depending on the growth stage, the rooms are either warm and humid or cool and dry.

Andrew Garcia works in one of the hot rooms cutting clones.   

“Right now we’re taking exact copies of the mother plant itself and we’re going to multiply that,” he said.  

The strain of the mother plant is Nutter Budder, for the record. Garcia said for the last six months he’s shared a house with his older brother about 15 minutes from work.

“How’s life in San Manuel? It’s, how would I describe, very peaceful. It’s very open. Yeah, it’s like the perfect place to do this," Garcia said. 

In San Manuel, the 21-year-old said he’s found a door into the industry he wants to work in and a great place to go dirt biking, a favorite hobby. How long does he plan to stay?

“A pretty long while to be honest with you. I kind of like a lot where I live and what I’m doing. So I really don’t see any reason to leave. Sure it’s far away from the cities and stuff. But I’ve been in the city, so ..." he said. 

Matthew Casey/KJZZ
Indoor marijuana growers control the amount light plants get and their exposure time to help secure a good harvest.

It wasn’t hard to pick out Garcia’s brother, Benjamin, in one of the cool rooms where ready-to-be-sold marijuana is sorted and packaged. They siblings look almost exactly alike. 

“I got here almost a year ago. Saw it was a really good opportunity. (Andrew) kind of likes, more or less, the same things I do. So I was like 'hey, come give this a shot,'” said Benjamin Garcia. 

The elder brother also likes the quiet of living in San Manuel and not having a long work commute. A neighbor gives the brothers eggs in exchange for helping with farm work.

“You learn independence when you live in a small town. It actually helped me form bonds with people I necessarily wouldn't living in the city,” said Benjamin Garcia.

The 26-year old says he encourages fellow San Manuel residents to come work at the marijuana grow facility.

“I hope to never find another job ever again,” said Benjamin Garcia.

Patrick Corrigan
Matthew Casey/KJZZ
Cultivation Director Patrick Corrigan explains the process for drying harvested marijuana.

But not everyone in San Manuel likes the new industry. Lucile Gonzales arrived in the 1970s. Her husband worked at the copper mine. She remembers how suddenly fortunes changed.

“The union hall called us and told us not to show up to work the next day cause the mine had closed,” she said.

Gonzales said San Manuel was a great place to raise a family and most left after the mine closed.

She opposes marijuana use, said it might be due to her age, and chafed at hearing her home called a cannabis capital.

“I don’t think that it’s a good industry to have here,”  said Gonzales. 

Long-enforced legal and social taboos aside, Gonzales said cannabis coming to town meant losing access to one of her favorite places.

“I’m sad that they’ve had to enclose the whole property because there was a real nice swimming hole out there that we could go to," she said. 

Gonzales doesn’t want to see San Manuel become a marijuana company town, even if it means that most people from there don’t stay.

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Flowering marijuana plants are on the cusp of being ready to cultivate.
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