Political winds blowing ill for pot growing in Washington

JOSH BITTERMAN, a fourth-generation Eastern Washington farmer, transformed a long-empty fruit-packing plant in the Chelan County town of Monitor into a budding new agri-business. But now the local powers want to send him, and others like him, packing.

“You would think a self-professed agricultural capital like Chelan County would celebrate Bitterman's investment (of $1 million). After all, keeping young people in the farming business is increasingly difficult,” writes Lester Black in a fascinating new article -- headlined Why Are Farming Counties in Eastern Washington Shutting Down Pot Farms? -- in Seattle’s The Stranger.

“But Chelan County's leaders did not celebrate Bitterman's investment. In fact, they did the opposite, voting unanimously this past August to make Bitterman's farm illegal,” Black adds in a well-reported article that literally finds the issue pitting neighbors vs. neighbors and anti-regulation conservatives vs. newly pro-regulation conservatives.

In neighboring Yakima County, the debate over whether cannabis belongs in farm country is on the Nov. 7 ballot. The county is home to 20 pot-growing operations and citizens will be asked their thoughts on the matter in a non-binding advisory proposition put forth by county commissioners.

The question they’re being asked is this: Should the Board of Yakima County Commissioners continue the complete [though unenforced] ban of marijuana production, processing and retail sales within unincorporated Yakima County?

A “yes” vote on the measure means a “no” vote on legalized pot, and a “no” means “yes,” as the Yakima Herald-Republic outlined in an editorial this week suggesting that the proverbial baby be split: Keep existing pot businesses, but also keep close watch.

ALL IS NOT A STRUGGLE IN THE state of Washington's weed world, however, as two new stories -- one in Money magazine and another in Spokane's Spokesman-Review -- illustrate.

Former state senator Chris Marr is the subject of an entertaining human interest story in the S-R detailing how he parlayed the state’s marijuana legalization into professional gold. The former Majority Whip and Vice Chair of the Transportation Subcommittee is a lobbyist and marijuana industry consultant living in Olympia.

“I normally call what I do ‘strategic and regulatory consulting,’” he tells the S-R’s Staci Lehman. “I really didn’t get into lobbying specifically for marijuana – it has only been in the last year-and-a-half that people have been contacting me.” Click here to read the full story.

Meanwhile, Money magazine is out with a profile piece on Jody Hall -- The Ex-Starbucks Manager Who Is Now the Weed Queen of Washington -- whose Seattle-based Goodship baking company has sold more than $600,000 worth of edibles to consumers in Washington and California in the last year. And the future appears bright.

I think it would be very short sited of Washington to place limits or road blocks on the cannabis industry. As the product becomes more mainstream, which it will continue to do, we will be left behind by other states who grab the markets that we can control if we move quickly. There are more and more medicinal uses being discovered with this plant, and of course the hemp market is virtually untouched at present. Cannabis has its detractors, but ask yourself why you would object to it when you find alcohol acceptable. We can be certain that if we ourselves make the poor decision to halt this market in our state, it will be imported from other states, weather illegal or not. We will create a black market for a product that we could have been reaping tax revenue from. Marijuana brought Washington State 168 million in taxes last year. 10% of Americans admit to taking an occasional smoke. That's a huge market. If we look at the tremendous toll alcohol takes on our public and we still aren't willing to curb alcohol sales, it would seem hypocritical to attempt it with marijuana. Currently more than twice as many people work in the legal pot industry than work in the lumber industry. More than 10,000 people were employed by legal weed businesses in 2016, and legal pot businesses paid almost $300 million in wages during the industry's first two and a half years. I don't think Washington should start deciding which crops farmers are allowed to grow. This crop was voted on by the people and government, along with disgruntled neighbors shouldn't be allowed to decide who is a "good farmer" and who is not.

@MaryWilson - I agree that it is not necessarily right for the state (or federal gov for that matter) to decide on which farmers are allowed to grow cannabis and which are not. However, since the legal marijuana market is still a new concept, I do think that the government should have regulations in place to ensure that the cannabis sold at dispensaries is as safe as possible. Any farmer who abides by set regulations and produces clean, safe cannabis should be able to sell it. "Dirty" marijuana should not be sold openly at dispensaries, especially if Washington hopes to become a "success" story for legal recreational marijuana.

You make a good point, but if we allow the government the privileged of deciding which marijuana is clean enough and what the protocol will be to make it acceptable then what is to stop them from making that decision about any other crop we grow. Government is well know for taking a mile when given an inch. Also, who will be deciding the rules? What will the recourse be if growers disagree? I see a lot of bureaucracy forming around this crop and I'm not sure that's the way we should go. Bureaucracy is currently the biggest and fastest growing part of government.

I would suggest getting a coalition of FDA officials and cannabis growers together to determine what "good" marijuana to sell in dispensaries would be. Of course, it could be difficult with all of the different strains. However, if marijuana is held to the same FDA standards as over-the-counter medicines, then the stigma associated with marijuana use could decrease over time, and legalizing it nationwide could become a reality.

I was horrified when pot dispensaries started popping up in Bellevue and other areas full of families. Children should not be exposed to such a "pot-friendly" environment.