Will the Peninsula turn to pot? It'll grow here all right, but would it be a cottage industry?
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Laura Lewis, Jefferson County’s Washington State University extension agent, agrees that marijuana would grow well as a cash crop on the North Olympic Peninsula: “They call it ‘weed’ for a reason.” -- Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

The soil and climate that support the cultivation of berries and vegetables on the North Olympic Peninsula also are suitable for growing marijuana and fulfilling the intent of voter-approved Initiative 502, an agricultural expert said.

And the plant can be grown indoors, anyway, though at much greater expense.

But will I-502, which in November legalized the possession, production and sale of marijuana, make pot a successful cash crop in Clallam and Jefferson counties, whether grown indoors or outdoors?

Owners of at least two Clallam County farms say they won't even try.

And it may be too early to tell how the law will work.

The initiative legalized recreational use and possession of up to 1 ounce of cannabis as of Dec. 6.

The state Liquor Control Board is devising rules that will cover growing, processing and selling marijuana through a licensing system that must be in place by Dec. 1.

To that end, the agency is seeking requests for proposals, or RFPs, from individuals and companies “to assist with the implementation of the legalized recreational marijuana system,” according to the Liquor Control Board's website at www.liq.wa.gov, where the RFP form can be downloaded and extensive information on I-502 reviewed.

The RFP already has been sent to or downloaded by 1,600 potential applicants, agency spokesman Brian Smith said Friday.

Information on whether anyone from Clallam or Jefferson counties has requested the RFP is nondisclosable until a contract is awarded, Smith said.

Because marijuana possession is a federal crime, any potential pot consultant could face arrest, though Gov. Jay Inslee and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson met last with U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to discuss the new law.

Holder reportedly wanted more information on how marijuana will be taxed and regulated, and sought clarification on efforts to make sure marijuana grown in Washington stays in Washington.

Licenses for growers may be available midyear and for retailers in late 2013.

The farming of marijuana could take place anywhere in the state, including the North Olympic Peninsula, said Mikhail Carpenter, another Liquor Control Board spokesman.

Laura Lewis, Jefferson County's Washington State University extension agent, agreed.

“They call it weed for a reason,” she said last week.

“It can really grow in almost any environment worldwide.

“There would be absolutely no limitation to producing it in Clallam and Jefferson counties.”

The WSU's Office of the Associate Dean of Extension has warned extension service offices statewide — Clallam County also has a branch — to not give the kind of advice it gives to farmers of other crops.

The Jefferson County branch has had to turn away about a half-dozen people who have asked for exactly that because marijuana farming is still illegal under federal law.

“We could lose funding if we assist in transitioning to that production,” Lewis said.

But it is growable in traditional farming areas of the Sequim-Dungeness Valley, the Chimacum Valley and the agricultural area from Port Townsend to Quilcene, she said.

At least two farmers in Clallam County won't be farming marijuana: Lee Norton and Doug Hendrickson of Salt Creek Farm west of Port Angeles, and Nash Huber of Nash's Organic Produce in Sequim.

“Not a chance,” Huber said Friday.

“I suspect that when you look at places where it's grown successfully, they are hot; they are like the Yakima Valley.”

Huber grows tomatoes indoors, but it costs more than it does outdoors, he said.

“I would say it's at least twice as expensive,” Huber said.

Salt Creek Farm grows and sells vegetables in a co-op-like, community-supported-agriculture program that draws many people to their property, Norton said.

“We were sort of thinking maybe it would be nice for a cash crop, but there also has been the issue. I don't think we'd be comfortable trying to do that until recently it's been illegal, and it seems like if we start growing pot and people know you are growing pot, we would be afraid of who would come around.

“It sort of puts out an attractant.

“The farm is very open.

“There is a cultural thing that I hope goes away as it becomes legitimate.”

Lewis said Peninsula weather is much like the infamous marijuana-growing area of Northern California.

“It's one of the few plants of a cosmopolitan nature,” she added.

Hops is a similar crop, and it grows abundantly in the Yakima Valley.

Much of the agricultural land in Jefferson County is “fairly saturated,” Lewis added.

“There are better soils in Clallam.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 26. 2013 6:26PM
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