WA: Let Farmers Sell Their Own Pot

Photo Credit: Steven Weissman

Imagine this: The next time you buy pot, you get to shake hands with the person who grew it. You can ask the actual farmer if they used pesticides, or which strain is especially good right now, or which one is best for sleeping and which is best for f*cking.

If you live in Seattle or anywhere in Washington, this is of course completely illegal. Our state’s weed laws put a big fat wall between customers and farmers, barring producers from opening stores or directly selling their goods in farmers markets. That disconnects customers from the people who grow their weed and puts small businesses at a serious disadvantage.

It also makes our weed laws uniquely hostile toward farmers. In places like Oregon, Colorado, and California, pot growers are allowed ways to integrate their farms into retail businesses.

Now Washington’s farmers are asking for those same rights.

Micah Sherman, owner of Raven Grass farm in Olympia, told me he is lobbying the state legislature to let pot producers open retail locations at their farms where they could sell the products they grow on-site. It would be the equivalent of the farm stands that pop up in agricultural communities, and it would give farmers a way to increase their profit margins on some of the products they sell.

“It lets us have a little bit of agency in how our products are presented and sold,” Sherman said. “Then someone could have a direct relationship with me and understand what my philosophy is and see what we’re doing on the farm.”

There’s some concern that this change would let the state’s biggest farms open up a version of factory outlet stores and drive even more small farmers out of business. But the proposal could, for example, put a cap on how much each pot farm stand could sell per month or make it applicable only to a certain size of business.

Sherman said Washington needs to do something different if the state wants to continue to have small businesses in the weed industry.

“Right now, there is an existential crisis among people who are growing weed in Washington State and they are struggling to even exist,” Sherman said. “And I feel like the most immediate way to give relief is a pathway to selling our products.”

Another idea would be to legalize pot farmers markets, a model adopted by California. Michael Katz, cofounder of California’s Emerald Exchange, said, “People should know who is growing their cannabis just like they should know who is growing the food they are eating. You can buy stuff that is commoditized, that has been produced to try to maximize profit—or you can buy stuff that is intentional and mindful and grown by a family that you can meet.”

The predicament facing Washington’s pot farmers is not unprecedented. In the 1970s, corporatization of agriculture was killing small farms, and the spread of supermarkets was making it impossible for customers to connect with the few remaining local farmers.

Then along came farmers markets. Supermarkets may still be the most popular way to buy food in America, but they are no longer the only option. There are now more than 8,000 farmers markets across the country selling an estimated $1 billion in products every year. A Washington State University study found that a sample of 88 farmers markets in our state produced sales in excess of $30 million.

That’s a lot of money going almost straight into the farmers’ pockets with no middleman taking a cut. Washington is home to some of the best farmers markets in the country, including Seattle’s Pike Place Market, which has been operating since 1907.

So why can’t we have weed farmers markets? Ask your state legislators. They are the only people saying no.