Marijuana Where Apples Once Reigned: No More Bong Busts in Washington

 . . . the solution is not to toss youthful offenders into jail or prisons. We long ago recognized alcoholism to be a disease, and abandoned efforts to treat alcoholics simply by locking them up.    – former Oregon   Governor Tom McCall

Cash-only Business

It’s now a cash crop in the minds of Washington farmers, who once voted hard right for Nixon, Apple Pie, Mom, Baseball and Throwing the Book at Potheads.

Maybe apples will take a back seat to cannabis sativa. Some counties like Walla Walla want to capitalize on the wine and recreational reefer business. Imagine – wine tasting and the terroir of good homegrown pot.

No matter how many ways one parses it up, legalized recreational pot, for 21 and over, is a reality in the Evergreen State. There will be recipes for the best cookies, lemonade and tinctures made from the hallucinogenic and medicinal portions of the main compound in pot, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

Even old timers are breaking down their hard-gained anti-drug sentiments.

“I meet weekly, on Saturdays at the Starbucks in Kennewick,” says one of my sources who is going through the process of applying for grower and processer licenses, but who also hesitates to identify himself in this nail-biting process of being vetted by Washington State honchos. It’s coming down to the wire for Farmer Papa (alias).

“A retired cop from Pasco, two milk delivery men, a bus driver, two mechanics, a railroad man. Imagine, here we are, with a couple of salt of the earth farmers in our Sixties from the same graduating class in Pasco – Sixty-five and Sixty-seven  — and we’re talking about the miracle of pot.” He smiles and then shows me plants that would make a 1969 Woodstock attendee cry.

You see, my source and these fellows who I met were looking at one guy’s disappearing melanoma spots on his head. Again, my Farmer Papa: “So, Larry’s stoner son has this cannabis butter all made up and Larry starts spreading it on his head on the cancerous spots, as if it’s something from Body Works. In six months, I kid you not, here we are looking at where those lumps were, and they are gone. He was supposed to be dead months ago. The cop, who used to bust Mexican and blacks for reefer in Pasco, is now wanting to get in on the marijuana wave. “

That’s the security, guns, night vision goggles and surveillance side of things, not the growing or retail end. Because the state of Washington has all sorts of provisos for growing, processing and selling the stuff, including being 2,000 feet from a park, daycare, hospital, school, and having security and fencing and CTV set up, there are capitalists wanting to make a buck from this crop.

One source at the Liquor Control Board, Chris Marr, speaking in Spokane two months ago, says the state’s Office of Financial Management sees the potential total taxation haul for the state to be $1.9 billion over the next five years.

Think of that special education teacher, those iPads, new playground equipment and football fields financed partially by those wanting to get high!

On the national scene, prognosticators see this legal industry at $1.43 billion in 2013, with a 65 percent growth rate predicted for fiscal year 2014,  at $2.34 billion. Some predict several billionaires will be made out of the Washington pot business, and this sales expansion rate looks  to be better than the next best business sector — global sales of smartphones.

Medicinal Tree of Life

This is the conundrum for an herb, really a single species as modern DNA analysis has confirmed: 483 identifiable chemical constituents and at least 85 different cannabinoids in this cannabis sativa. This plant, also known as hemp, has incredible nutritious, medicinal and industrial uses.

The high-inducing qualities of the marijuana plant have created huge inequalities for African Americans, who have paid the highest price for the war against pot, or drugs, with higher incarceration rates for small amounts of pot than what child rapists and murderers get, and, of course, what their pot-using white counterparts get.

It’s referred to as “Sacred Grass” in the Hindu sacred text Arthava-Veda. Think of the first woven clothing stitched around 10,000 years ago. Hemp as a highly adaptable fiber, cannabis, and ironically in 1619 a law was passed in Jamestown, Virginia Colony, requiring farmers to grow hemp.

“I never thought I’d be talking about legalization of pot happening in 2013 when I attended concerts at the Fillmore in San Francisco, that’s for sure,” says Washington State Liquor Control Board member Chris Marr. He’s a former state legislator who said he had a trip planned for Mount Kilimanjaro after his re-election defeat when Governor Inslee asked if he was serious about getting onto his cabinet as a “booze officer,” AKA one of three members on the liquor (and now) marijuana control board.

Marr thinks legalized pot is one of the more interesting boondoggles a state agency could ever be involved with.

The retail stores are set to open in June, he told an audience in Spokane. Marr knows the growers are biting at the bit, and some are confused about when they will get licensed to grow and get the clones leafing and budding to supply the retail stores their goods.

Farmer Popa rattles off the challenges for him:

  • 68 days to get hundreds of clones to produce the buds and leaves for snipping
  • clones already have to be in the pipeline even though technically a grower can only have 15 if he or she has a medical pot card
  • there will not be enough of the product in the retail stores to meet Chris Marr’s predications
  • 43 pages of rules
  • 334 total retail licenses given out, then hundreds more to farmers, processors
  • 50 percent failure rate for farmers of pot in Colorado the first year
  • 170 metric tons of weed were consumed in Washington in 2013

Marr knows that the state is looking the other way because farmers have to get a jump on things and that means clones or starts should already be in hothouses. The state, Marr points out, has to adapt to a cash business model since the federal enforcers and Eric Holder, attorney general, and his boss, Obama, have not accepted legalized pot sales at the federal level, so federally insured banks can’t “do loans, do business accounts, do credit systems.”

War on Pot Turned into War on Weeds?

“It’s the most confounding thing I have had to deal with in my sixty-seven years, all of which have been as a farmer’s son and farmer,” says my anonymous license applicant, Farmer Papa, from Tri-cities,  who doesn’t want his name published in the press until he gets the green-light to grow his green.

This is the world of pot sales in one of two US states (Colorado being the other) where recreational pot is legal. His application with the WSLCB is under “Papa Farms, LLC,” and been with him on several occasions, and understand the intrigue, as well as the quasi-illicit nature of those in our state who still do not know what to make of laws that will allow Washingtonians and tourists from anywhere to buy ounces of pot out of a few hundred retail stores in the state. For many, pot is the lesser of evils when stacked against booze.

President Obama attempts to struggle out of his own marijuana contradictions. Sure, Barak inhaled when he was younger, unlike the other pot-head democrat, Bill Clinton, but even Barak’s bud adoration has its limits – he thinks smoking pot is bad. He pronounced in his most recent State of the Union address that he would never want his kids as adults to toke.

He has to deal with federal agencies and for-profits feeding on the taxpayer trough making billions from a drug war that many see as one of this country’s biggest disservices to our rights.

Interestingly, the farming news outlets are abuzz about one element of our farm bill, called the “Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013.” Ten states’ universities and ag departments will be permitted to carry out research on growing the crop George Washington deemed vital to America:  “Make the most of the Indian Hemp Seed and sow it everywhere.”

We are in many ways a schizophrenic species, allowing rivers of beer, wine and hard spirits to run through a million grocery stores, package goods joints, convenience shops, five and dimes, even in Walgreens drug stores near the packs of cancer sticks. Imagine, pharmacies selling gallons of vodka for $7 a pop and packs of Marlboros while the vice squad outside in the parking lot rifles through some high school kid’s tricked-out Honda Civic looking for a few buds of cannabis sativa.

Booze v. Pot Redux

I was a reporter in Arizona a few years after the drug war was “announced” by Tricky Dick, in the 1970s, and this very scenario occurred during a drive-along with cops. It was embarrassing, really, two articulate high school kids getting the twice-over by muscle-bound cops and their amped up K-9 shepherds. By the same cops I had drinks with at a south Tucson bar until 2 a.m. the night before.

We all were hammered at the cantina, and the veteran cops opened up about the hard life being a policeman, like child abuse, all the terrible things they see and have to deal with, like kids pimping and selling themselves at fourteen. The three of us ended up with a last double-round of tequila shots, and we all left in our own vehicles, certainly not tooling around under the legal limit for blood alcohol, even back then, in 1978 in Arizona. They laughed at some lawyer types at the cantina who looked as if they had just come from the bathroom with a few lines of coke sniffed hard before calling it a day.

Imagine, open booze containers legal for passengers in vehicles. Then this scaring the you know what out of juniors in high school, while paunchy golfers were leaving the Walgreens with smokes and gallons of booze.

Think hard about the negative effects of the War on Drugs, a 43–year-old roughshod war costing US taxpayers billions and forcing millions of lives onto a path of fractured, broken and ruined futures. That was officially signed into law under Richard Nixon, in 1971, though the war against marijuana goes further back.

Here’s what Spokane lawyer and this year’s candidate for County Prosecutor Breean Beggs says about the drug war:

“Since the 1970’s advocates for the war on drugs erroneously believed that if they made the sentences for minor drug possession harsh enough, people would simply stop using them.  Science and 30 years of data have proven this to be utterly incorrect and hundreds of thousands of people have paid the price.”

Really, though, African-Americans and Mexican-Americans were targeted for smoking weed earlier, during the country’s industrialization period. Later, guys like Robert Mitchum (and who hasn’t heard of Willie Nelson?) and a ship load of others were targeted by vice squads to make a point, to ruin careers, to harass and to use as an excuse for brutality, sometimes death by cop.

My roots are Arizona, and Mexico, reporting on the drug tunnels along the Arizona (Douglas) border with Mexico (Naco). I spent plenty of time in Juarez and Chihuahua investigating as a reporter and fiction writer dealers, politicians, business owners, and dyed in the wool drug runners. I’ve seen warehouses of bricks of cocaine and pot three stories high in Mexico, Belize and Costa Rica. I’ve stumbled upon pot growing farms in Mexico, Arizona, New Mexico and near some property of mine in Washington.

DEA, AFT, FBI, EPIC, and other alphabet soup agencies on the public payroll and every small- and big-town police jurisdiction have horned in on the drug take, so to speak:  confiscated assault rifles, wheelbarrows of cash, cars, jets and boats. Hell, I have a friend in El Paso who takes in tigers, wolves, bears, 20 foot Anacondas and monkeys and parrots from drug busts.

I even fed off the trough of the unethical War on Drugs, tangentially, albeit with a bit more ethical and intellectual panache: I taught in two prisons in New Mexico and Texas. College English classes. Many of my students had been set up on conspiracy to import-and-sell marijuana charges, over 200 pounds. Seven year minimums, and so in my English 101 classes, I helped quite a few guys with their grammar and sentence structure issues in order for them to write their appeals in the hope of getting the hell out of jail and back to wife, kids and lives.

Voters Speak – Blue Side, ‘Yes,” Red Side, ‘No,’ Marijuana Wins!

That might have been one of the reasons for the I-502 initiative that voters in Washington passed last November, though the East Side of the state and rural counties like Franklin and Benton, well, the numbers for the blue side of the state – 65 for and 30 against — were flipped out in the East red side of the state.

Cities and counties have declared moratoriums on pot sales and pot growing, and, they are waiting for the feds to drop some sort of hammer on the two states’ people-driven initiatives. These counties are hoping for dry pot status, but the state liquor control board thinks that won’t happen.

One of my sources for this piece, a guy I have spent days with, showed me around his medical marijuana operation, and showed me where his next big growth barns will be when he gets the “go” for one-half an acre indoor growing facilities. He’s planted corn, wheat, hay, alfalfa, peas, beets, strawberries and raised lambs, sheep, cattle and calves, for over 47 growing seasons.

“All my crops and animals succeeded. Now, well, this marijuana growing is chock full of pitfalls. More than fifty percent of the licenses will fall through. The growers already are dropping off. Growing pot is not that easy.”

This is the heaviest lift of his life:  getting sanctioned by the State Liquor Control Board to garner  licenses as a tier three grower and processor – that means 30,000 square feet of space he’s vying for to grow some potent recreational and medicinal pot.

The take, well, that’s the rub with folks on my side of the political fence (way left), to be sure – 25 percent from the state levied against grower; 25 percent to the state if you are a processer; and 25 percent of the profits for retail stores, plus the 8.125 state sales tax.

The problem is that the medical marijuana growers, who were legal in the state (excluding 30 Washington cities), are the true pathfinders, compatriots: They do the growing to take care of Parkinson’s disease, chronic pain, chemo bombardment, and over a thousand different issues humanity experiences. Even pets and livestock can benefit from pot. It can come in the form of kibbles and bits for Fido and tea cakes and brownies for Uncle John and Aunt Ruth.

Now, the state is seeing Seattle as a hub, with some capitalists wanting to get a monopoly going, driving the mom and pop stores out of the competition. There are apps for phones on where to find the best herb or the most potent soda pop or “sweetest” candies laced with THC and cannibals

Washington is following the Colorado marijuana model, both of which have been getting a lot of traction in the national media, including Rolling Stone magazine.

Reefer Madness

In 2010 two initiatives to take the control of liquor sales from the state and give it to the privateers, I-1000 and 1005, were defeated. Then, with a stroke of another initiative process (2011) and $20 million shoved into Washington by the pro-privatization groups —  largely from Costco —  liquor privatization passed ending the state’s 79-year run as liquor cop and retailer.

In 2007 medical marijuana passed in our state (21 states now have it legal), but as mentioned earlier, many cities passed laws to put moratoriums on their communities. Marr says the same has occurred with legalized recreational pot, but those cities and counties like Pierce with moratoriums might owe people for potential loss of commerce, livelihoods.

Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann sees a real double-standard and dichotomy brewing. Here we have those who have suffered the most in the War on Drugs and those who have struggled against it might not be among the winners of this capitalist’s game. “The capitalist forces at work in a prohibitionist market are violent and brutal, but the capitalist forces at work in a legal market are even more brutal in some respects,” he said. “We know that the people who may come to dominate this industry are not necessarily the people who are a part of this movement.”

As Beggs notes, there is a carrot-stick message now in 2014 around this inaugural year for pot sales:

“The primary goal of the supporters of 502 was to keep every day adult Cannabis users out of the criminal justice system.  In order to attract a majority vote, they had to make certain compromises.  One was to provide substantial revenue to government, so it is no accident at all that there is a substantial tax on the cultivation, manufacture and sale of the product.  Those taxes are meant to pay for the intensive regulation necessary to keep the federal government from intervening but were also clearly designed to be a carrot for public policy advocates with goals for other spending.”

Farmer Papa, who uses the non-high inducing CBD (cannabidiol) daily for tremors, chronic pain and Parkinson’s symptoms, says he is ready to fork out the fees, or taxes. He’s had a two-year tutelage with “one of the best farmers I’ve ever known.” This fellow has been in state custody for growing, but for Papa, this three-time felon whose underground facility in Seattle was busted, “grows the best pot and highest yielding plant anyone has ever seen.”

For Papa, he is willing to “play the game and pay the taxes,” even if it’s against his own values: “I’m looking to pull in $1.4 million the first year of business.”

Editor’s Note: Again, brought to you by my other gig, working as writer, reporter, thinker for Spokane Magazine. Coming up soon is a piece on the veterinary business — state of vets and pet care and public animal health in USA. Following that, in May, the state of diversity and Native American intercultural relations in my neck of the woods, called the Inland Empire, Spokane, Eastern Washington, Northern Idaho.


Paul Haeder's been a teacher, social worker, newspaperman, environmental activist, and marginalized muckraker, union organizer. Paul's book, Reimagining Sanity: Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber (2016), looks at 10 years (now going on 17 years) of his writing at Dissident Voice. Read his musings at LA Progressive. Read (purchase) his short story collection, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam now out, published by Cirque Journal. Here's his Amazon page with more published work Amazon. Read other articles by Paul, or visit Paul's website.