By Ross Courtney, Yakima Herald-Republic
Green pastures and barbed wire surround eight grow tents. Irrigation tubes guide water through neat rows. Seasonal employees tie up branches heavy with the fall crop.
In many ways, Life Gardens southeast of Ellensburg feels and functions like any farm.
“It’s just another crop, other than we grow a Schedule I drug,” said owner Greta Carter, one of five licensed Kittitas County recreational marijuana producers.
Slowly and in beat with the rhythms of agriculture, licensed producers are growing enough pot that retailers hope to eventually lower prices enough to diminish the black market, one of the major justifications for Initiative 502, passed by state voters nearly two years ago.
“We’ll slow it down, yeah,” said Mary Van de Graaf, owner of Mill Creek Suite A, one of two licensed retailers in Union Gap.
So far, even store owners like Van de Graaf admit legalizing and licensing marijuana has done little to combat street sales, where unscrupulous dealers don’t test their products, pay taxes or check the age of their customers.
Statistics for 2014 are not out yet, but there’s an increase this year in illegal grows on tribal lands, public lands and in backyards, said Jodie Underwood, a spokeswoman the federal Drug Enforcement Administration’s regional office in Seattle.
Just Monday, authorities seized 20 pounds of processed marijuana and 43 plants in Zillah. The same day, police arrested two men they accuse of stealing medical marijuana from a home in Selah.
“I have customers come in and say they would like to buy from me, but it’s just so much cheaper on the black market,” Van de Graaf said.
Her clients so far have been limited to older, more affluent …read more