The marijuana growing business in Washington’s Chelan County – especially the area’s outdoor growth – is being reduced significantly, if not entirely. And, if you ask some of the producers in the area, it’s also being done violently.
Over the past year, officials in the country, responding to residents’ claims that the smell of weed (especially during its harvest) is offensive and even potentially dangerous, have been working to pass measures that would make outdoor marijuana growth illegal in the county. And while those measures haven’t been made law yet, some producers, like Scott Edson of Outlaw Cannabis, say their farms have already been attacked.
Edson, who co-founded Outlaw in 2015, says much of his company’s outdoor growth is produced on the rooftop of a large warehouse. Outlaw, since its founding, has produced “thousands of pounds” of marijuana, but lately his property’s landlord has been receiving pressure from Chelan County officials to cease Outlaw’s outdoor production all together.
“[County officials] started citing our landlord for violations of rules that hadn’t been set by the county yet,” Edson says. “They’re still only proposed rules. They started writing our landlord citation letters and that’s where our landlord issued us an eviction notice on our outdoor grow space.”
“I think it’s become a moral issue and there’s a lack of education of the industry. It’s just amazingly ignorant how some people are of the cannabis community…they basically got their mind made up, they don’t care about the repercussions for tax payers.”
Edson says the eviction notice was based on claims of unpaid rent but “our accounting department quickly ruled that out with check stubs.” His landlord’s next move, Edson claims, was to come to the grow space at 6 am on a Saturday morning and bulldoze $300,00 worth of fencing and camera equipment on the premises, exposing many plants. “It’s pretty extreme,” he says. Edson is now suing his landlord for $850,000 in damages and lost product, claiming, among other things, the landlord did not honor the agreement stating all cannabis products have to be out from the farm before the landlord can terminate the lease agreement.
Edson says he doesn’t know exactly why Chelan County, known for its fertile crop-growing environment, is moving so aggressively to reduce outdoor growth, a move that could potentially cost the area millions of dollars in taxable revenue and law suits. “All I can really do is speculate,” he says. “I think it’s become a moral issue and there’s a lack of education of the industry. It’s just amazingly ignorant how some people are of the cannabis community…they basically got their mind made up, they don’t care about the repercussions for tax payers.”
At first, Edson says, area growers tried to find compromise with the county, forming the Central Washington Growers Association, but to no avail. Edson, who has worked in the marijuana business for 18 years in each state on the west coast, says there is no way at this point his business can stay in Chelan. “All outdoor growers are to be out of the county by March 2018,” he says, “and there are only a few pieces of property that meet the criteria for indoor growth.”
In February 2016, Chelan County commissioners agreed to a ban on all marijuana processing and growing businesses that weren’t operational by September 29, 2015. The county’s growers and processors then sued the county over the ban in Chelan County Superior Court. And while many residents claim their displeasure with the outdoor growth stems from the smell of weed, others point out the same smell emanates from hops (the stuff that flavors your favorite IPA) grown in the area. Hops and marijuana are related and their smell comes from terpenes found in both plants.
In neighboring Douglas County, marijuana producers were met with similar measures by officials to change outdoor weed growing methods. Those compromises, Edson says, only took a day to figure out. Nevertheless, Chelan County presses on to remove the outdoor marijuana growing business from within their borders, shunning an estimated 1,000 jobs and millions of dollars producers have already invested.
“Douglas County put up a similar moratorium,” Edson recalls. “But it only took an afternoon to come up with compromises on where to allow the cannabis industry. Now, 93% of the county is open to marijuana cultivation. Chelan found the opposite. Now, my goal is to get out of Chelan County completely and move to Douglas and restart.”