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.
far, legal marijuana store owners admit legalizing and licensing
marijuana has done little to combat street sales, where unscrupulous
dealers don't test their products, pay taxes or check the age of their
Statistics for 2014 are not out yet, but there's an
increase this year in illegal grows on tribal lands, public lands and in
backyards, said Jodie Underwood, a spokeswoman the federal Drug
Enforcement Administration's regional office in Seattle.
last Monday, authorities seized 20 pounds of processed marijuana and 43
plants in Zillah. The same day, police arrested two men they accuse of
stealing medical marijuana from a home in Selah.
Valley retailers pay wholesale producers from $8 to $15 per gram, about
the same range as the street value of the untaxed, illicit version that
runs anywhere from $10 to $20 per gram depending on quality. Medical
marijuana, often sold illegally, runs between $10 to $12 per gram,
Store owners then charge between $25 to $40 to
cover their operating expenses and taxes. The state charges a 25 percent
excise tax on all retail sales, while the federal government, which
still considers marijuana against the law, charges store owners income
tax but allows no deductions.
The math often works out to a net
gain of less than 5 percent from which retailers must pay rent,
utilities, wages and their monthly bills for their startup loans.
However, things have improved and will keep improving, some retailers promise. At least stores can keep their doors open now.
until this fall, most of the state's marijuana has come from more
indoor growers, who have much higher electric bills than Eastern
Washington's sunlight farmers.
Marijuana business owners predict the extra supply from the sun-grown harvests
will allow them to cut their prices in half sometime this fall.
Markus, owner of Station 420 in Union Gap, also predicts prices will
drop by half but doesn't suspect they will stay that way for long.
this week, Markus drove twice to Spokane and once to Seattle to meet
with growers in search of enough product to keep his shelves full.
Last week, he spent a day and a half with no marijuana in small packages, in spite of an entire day of desperate phone calls.
suspects prices will drop only for a few months but go back up again
once retailers sell out of their outdoor-grown supplies. Changes to
federal tax laws in his favor aren't coming anytime soon either, he
of Tuesday, the state had issued licenses to 235 marijuana producers,
though not all have necessarily started growing. Klickitat County had
12, Kittitas County five, Benton County six and Grant County two. Yakima County had one.
County has banned all marijuana businesses in the unincorporated areas,
while the city of Moxee allows only producers and processors, not
retail stores. Most growers prefer locating outside city limits, where
they have more space between themselves and neighbors and cheaper water.
Growing pot is more technical than it looks, producers say, another trait it shares with most of the region's crops.
must watch out for pests and mold, manage canopy density and regulate
water. Most of the Kittitas growers haul water in by truck because of
the Department of Ecology's moratorium on new wells.
At least two of the Kittitas County growers, including Life Gardens, aren't completely outdoors.
plant in grow tubes with plastic tarps stretched over a pipe skeleton
similar to those used by a handful of Yakima Valley vegetable farmers.
The tubes let in fresh air and sunlight but allow the gardeners to
regulate heat and humidity. In the future, they may be able to harvest
three times in one year, instead of just once, or at least stagger their
seasons to keep the supply more steady.
At Life Gardens, bamboo stakes support the weight of budding branches, much the way notched lumber once did for ripe apples.
Ziegler spots a stick with too much ripening foliage crammed against
it, causing him to worry about mold. On another stake, wire chokes a
"I'll have to find out whose row this is," he said.
37, moved to the Ellensburg area in late June from Santa Rosa, Calif.,
where he worked for many years tending medical cannabis crops.
his crews may have learned some lessons. Their plants, some more than 7
feet tall, have grown so big and wide that workers have to crawl on
their hands and knees to reach the ones in the back. They might spread
things out a little next year.
"A lot of people underestimate it and they learn the hard way," Ziegler said.
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