When Chris Isoji White, owner of West Coast Herbs, was eighteen he had already been growing and selling marijuana for years. From Tri-Cities, Washington, he was that guy in high school who somehow always had the most flavorful, crystal-laden Blueberry bud that looked like it belonged on the pages of a magazine. One day, while Chris was riding his motorcycle, a city bus came around the corner and hit him head-on. He broke his neck and spine, and was paralyzed from the waist down.
“That was like being reborn,” Chris says. “That was waking up and having to start completely over.” Chris turned to cannabis more than ever. What had been a fun-loving pastime became his life’s passion. “After I got hit by that bus, I rediscovered cannabis. It was the one thing that helped me get through, and gave me a new way to start my life.”
Being in a wheelchair, he delved into the science of breeding and veganic (plant-based) gardening, rather than focus on physically demanding, high-yield production. He spent years curating and developing unique strains, working from old school genetics and developing his own all-natural fertilizers and pest control sprays.
“That’s wheelchair growing…”
Chris moved to Bellingham, WA, and when I-502 passed he started a Tier I grow in the building behind his house. But he couldn’t do it alone. Chris opened his life to many people, training them in exchange for help, but nobody stayed. He needed more than just an employee; he needed someone who would understand his situation and have his back in everyday life.
Dan Smith was living in Atlanta when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease last year. He had served in the Air Force in the ‘90s, so he went to the VA (the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) for help. They prescribed medications for Parkinson’s, drugs like Methadone, Percocet, and Xanax for PTSD, only to deny his request because he’d been using marijuana. “The VA wants to give you the pills. They do not want you to smoke cannabis,” he says.
Dan turned completely to medical marijuana, and found he could manage his symptoms without the side effects of pharmaceuticals. On a leap of faith, he put his dog in his car and drove cross-country to Washington State so he could live where cannabis was fully legal. His plan was to get a job in the industry and learn everything he could about how to grow this medicine.
One day in Bellingham, it happened. Chris was making a delivery to a dispensary while Dan was leaving the building. They bumped into each other in the doorway and started a conversation. Their situations aligned perfectly, but Chris had grown weary of people wanting to help. He told Dan he’d have to work for free—they wouldn’t see profits any time soon, and besides, Chris needed to know Dan would stick around when things got tough, regardless of money.
“When I saw his garden and his passion, I told him I’d be there forever,” says Dan. “All the lights were on pulleys and movers, and all the plants were on the floor.”
“That’s wheelchair growing,” says Chris.
Over the next few months, Dan took on more and more responsibility. And Chris, with someone to trust, began to let Dan take the reins. They built up the facility to improve production, getting plants off the floors and expanding into another grow room. All the while, they’ve stayed true to West Coast Herbs’ vision of heirloom genetics and veganic growing. Chris and Dan know all about perseverance. Indeed, their limitations have forced their creativity and tenacity to bloom. Most of all, it’s caused them to focus on their values and passion for this healing plant.