The future is always a challenge for small farmers, but for medical marijuana growers, it’s even more uncertain.
Tom Lauerman, who often goes by “Farmer Tom,” has had a medical marijuana collective garden in Vancouver, right on the border with Brush Prairie, for about 10 years.
Along with cannabis, he also grows a variety of fruits and vegetables, which he distributes through Community Supported Agriculture agreements with his neighbors.
And as a lifelong farmer, and former landscaper, Lauerman hopes his love of growing things can continue to support him.
But he’s in a bit of a gray area between medical and recreational marijuana laws. The Washington Legislature gave medical growers another year before the legal structure changes, but it’s likely that medical growers will eventually have to merge into the commercial and recreational system set up by Initiative 502.
“I just want to keep my farm and keep my family safe,” Lauerman said. “When I-502 came around, I couldn’t afford all the fees or the $60,000 or so needed to set up a commercial growing facility.”
So Lauerman decided to keep growing for his medical marijuana patients, but he’s also got a plan.
He’s developed a marketing strategy for his line of cannabis products and he’s hoping that someone who gets a Clark County growers license will pick him up or partner with him.
With his longtime experience as a grower, he’s proud of the strains he’s created, he said.
“The way we grow our vegetables is exactly how we grow our cannabis,” Lauerman said. “We grow for taste, flavor, aroma. People aren’t just looking to get high, they’re looking for flavor and a better overall experience. And plants grown outdoors just taste better than plants grown indoors in a sealed facility.”
He’s already had a handful of licensees from around the state ask him for growing advice. Several have never grown marijuana before, he said.
The trick is finding one locally that wants to work with him, he added.
“We’re ready to make the move,” Lauerman said. “We’re just small farmers out there wanting to shift into the industry.”
He distributes his medical marijuana in a similar way to his vegetable CSA agreements. Patients donate $800 before the growing season starts and $800 at the end of the season for a pound of medical cannabis.
While he wants to go commercial, he’s also worried about costs for his medical patients. Costs now work out to about $100 an ounce, but in the commercial economy, that will be closer to $400 an ounce.
“How can they afford that?” Lauerman said. “Most of these people are on fixed incomes.”
Still, he also has to worry about his own income and supporting his family. And if he has to stop farming because laws shift everything to commercial production, he may have to stop farming all together, he said.
“We have a year to figure it out,” Lauerman said. “But I’m hoping I’ll get that phone call and it will all work out.”
— Sue Vorenberg
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