Sitting in an open air tent on his farm, Tom Lauerman deftly rolled a joint, leaned back in his easy chair, and began to smoke.
And who could blame the guy for relaxing? After all, just a few feet from where he sat grew the fruits — or more accurately, buds — of nearly 10 months of labor.
Lauerman — known to his friends as Farmer Tom — is a medical marijuana grower whose operation rests on 5 acres just west of Brush Prairie. The one-time California hippie who first smoked at 12 years old is now growing his plants outdoors for his patients, an unusual departure from the standard massive warehouse grows.
Lauerman, also a medical user, smokes to alleviate stress and anxiety after deciding long ago that he had no interest in pharmaceutical drugs.
“I found what worked for me,” Lauerman said.
But bringing that experience to others is only part of Lauerman’s mission. His primary goal, he says, is to bring marijuana into mainstream acceptance.
“There’s been a lot of stigma over the years put on cannabis users,” Lauerman said. “This is pretty normal stuff.”
A distinct logo
Lauerman has come a long way since surfing in Baja and smoking cheap Mexican brick weed with his friends. In 1999, the now 55-year-old farmer was arrested on federal drug charges for growing 448 plants as part of a medical collective. Ultimately, he was never prosecuted, but the experience inspired him to more actively advocate for marijuana legalization.
He went on to spend nine years in the corporate world, working for Portland-based vegan beauty supply company Pacifica, helping develop its branding and marketing strategy.
“Baby wipes,” he said, listing the products he helped market in those days. “Scented baby wipes.”
But those skills he developed at Pacifica are among the most critically important to his work as a marijuana farmer today, he said. Through social media, Lauerman’s distinct logo — his face, looking like the Santa Claus of cannabis with his long white beard, made from a collage of rolling paper — has spread. He appears on T-shirts. His story has been published in national marijuana publications. He has more than 2,700 followers on his Instagram account.
And all that helps normalize marijuana use and growing, he said.
“We’ve been super visible,” he said.
Now, Lauerman is hoping that brand and its following will be what makes the difference for him in future endeavors. He’s developed his own organic fertilizer mix he uses for both his vegetables and marijuana that he plans to sell bearing his logo. He worked with Heathen Brewing to develop and market “Farmer Tom’s Super Dank IPA,” a beer with his face on the logo.
The long-term goal, however, is to establish a mobile trimming business where he travels from marijuana farm to marijuana farm to help trim and process buds for production and sale. That and other ancillary businesses supporting marijuana farmers are where there’s money to be made, he believes.
“That’s where we’re focusing our energy,” Lauerman said. “I see the writing on the wall.”
Lauerman’s days of growing marijuana illegally may be over, but there remain many hurdles before life is comfortable for the farmer and his wife, Paula.
There is no question that recreational marijuana is driving huge amounts of money into the economy. But with the arrival of recreational marijuana, even Lauerman’s self-described “top-shelf outdoor bud” is selling for 50 cents to a dollar for a gram of marijuana — compared to $10 to $15 a gram for what’s selling in recreational shops.
“The small farmers, they’re going to get screwed,” Lauerman said.
Lauerman filed for bankruptcy about a year ago with about $27,000 in debt. The bankruptcy was dismissed in February, according to court records.
He also foreclosed on his Brush Prairie property in July 2014. The trustee sale was discontinued last month and the property is not listed on grantor Northwest Trustee Service’s website for sale, but Lauerman still fears that chapter may not be over.
“It’s still looming,” Lauerman said of the foreclosure.
But even with his own financial and continuing legal troubles, Lauerman remains optimistic about the future of legal marijuana.
“It’s becoming more legal across the country,” Lauerman said. “It’s normalizing cannabis and that’s what I’m all about.”
Justin Runquist contributed to this report.