Outtakes From Marijuana Research

WASHINGTON:  I wanted to pass along a few interesting notes that did not make it into my Page 1 story last week about the marijuana supply ramping up. Like it or not, marijuana is now a cash crop in Washington and that means it will fall into my agricultural coverage from time to time.

Greta Carter, owner of the Life Gardens farm near Ellensburg featured in the story, is not just a marijuana farmer. She’s an outspoken cannabis activist, retired Republican banker and the executive director of the Care Wellness Center, a nonprofit outreach that provides public education about medical cannabis. Carter helped draft Initiative 502, which created the state’s legal recreational industry when voters passed it almost two years ago and frequently speaks to policy groups and lawmakers across the country about marijuana issues.

Financing has been a struggle for marijuana entrepreneurs in both Colorado and Washington, the first two states to legalize recreational use. Banks, often insured by federal programs, are hesitant to loan money, but the state’s licensing inspectors raise their eyebrows at unconventional loans. In fact, the license application process requires a surprising amount of detail about where growers get their start-up money. You can read the details at the Liquor Control Board’s website, but basically, regulators want to make sure cartels or other illicit enterprises aren’t involved. To come up with the untold thousands of dollars required to create Life Gardens — the security cameras alone cost $42,000 — Carter and her investors pre-sold their marijuana to retail shops, much the way wine grape growers and hop growers produce for contracts. Nobody, not even marijuana farmers, wants to be stuck with a crop they can’t sell.

I’m still trying to get a full picture of this, but marijuana obviously is regulated like no other crop. At Carter’s farm, each individual plant bore a tag with a unique bar code that allowed investigators to trace it to the production facility, batch, row and pot number. While photographer Mason Trinca and I visited, workers found a piece of branch about one-inch long that had at some time snapped off and fallen to the ground. An apple orchardist would just leave something like that and go on to bigger issues. State law requires Carter’s crew members to collect the branch, weigh it, report it to the state and then destroy it. They showed me a shiny new mulcher they bought just for that purpose.


Pot Prices Could Come Down As Harvest Ramps Up

WASHINGTON:  Green pastures and barbed wire surround eight grow tents. Irrigation tubes guide water through neat rows. Seasonal employees tie up branches heavy with the fall crop.

In many ways, Life Gardens southeast of Ellensburg feels and functions like any farm.

“It’s just another crop, other than we grow a Schedule I drug,” said owner Greta Carter, one of five licensed Kittitas County recreational marijuana producers.

Slowly and in beat with the rhythms of agriculture, licensed producers are growing enough pot that retailers hope to eventually lower prices enough to diminish the black market, one of the major justifications for Initiative 502, passed by state voters nearly two years ago.