Chronic Crush: Legal Washington Pot Stores To Open Soon, But Production Lags

Jun 26, 2014

State-licensed growers in Washington already have grown vast seas of marijuana plants under blinding lights. But much of that pot won’t be ready in time for stores’ grand openings in early July. Supply doesn't quite meet demand as correspondent Anna King reports.

Eric Cooper and Katey Cooper stand amid their flowering marijuana. Their business, named Monkey Grass, in Wenatchee, Wash., is one of the largest marijuana grows licensed by Washington state so far. In Washington 79 producers are licensed to grow 566,000 square feet of pot plants. Only a few producers will be ready with product when the state plans to license about 20 stores in on July7th.
Credit Anna King / Northwest News Network

From the blinding Eastern Washington sun I walk through a threshold into another world.

It’s dark. Humid. And green.

Mary Cooper: “Well, welcome to Monkey Grass Farms.”

Monkey Grass is one of the big boys. A tier-three Washington state-licensed indoor pot grow. That means they can nurture about 21,000 square feet of marijuana plants. Fans and machinery hum. And the plants are all bathed in eye-piercing light and party music.

It’s taken $100,000 of start-up, investors, lots of friends and family and four months to set up this major grow.

Cooper: “We’ve have approximately 300,000 total watts in lights here. We brought in enough lumber to frame a whole house.”

That’s Eric Cooper. He’s a former contractor and registered nurse. He grew medical marijuana, and now he’s one of the owners of Monkey Grass Farms.

Cooper’s got sort of The Dude vibe: Hawaiian-esque shirt, leather brown sandals and a bushy silver goatee. He smoked weed for the first time when he was about 14.

Twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings with badges around their necks scurry around. They go from plant to plant like bees on flowers in late summer. This place looks like the inside of Costco – just, it’s filled with a whole lot of pot.

But if you think you’re going to see any of this choice bud in stores at the beginning of July …

… you’re smokin’.

Cooper says their marijuana needs about four months to go from cutting to harvest. Monkey Grass and other producers still need a couple more weeks to dry down, package, test and deliver their product. So that means no Monkey Grass until mid-July.

And that’s the story with many of growers in Washington. It takes a while to set up these big grows -- and to actually grow.

Anna King: “Are the stores hassling ya trying to get the product?”

Cooper: “Yeah, I just stopped answering my phone.”

The state’s Liquor Control Board has predicted a possible shortage of pot in the first few weeks of July when stores open. And this puts the growers in control.

Cooper: “We’re looking for shelf space. If they want a percentage share of our crop, we want a percentage of shelf space. And it’s going to be the prime shelf space.”

Monkey Grass is following a model of more established agricultural crops in Washington. Grapes, potatoes, and blueberries -- many commodities in Eastern Washington are grown on contract. And Cooper says Monkey Grass is being kind of choosy where their product goes.

Cooper: “My daughters have been real good about going out and meeting with them. Looking at their locations. Getting a general feel for their type of management style. Are they more business like, or more like let’s go out and smoke a joint?”

Monkey Grass plans to harvest a fresh crop nearly every week. Cooper says he thinks the market will steady in about two to three months.

Resins, edibles, sodas and other pot products will come along. But they won’t likely be on store shelves at first. That’s because they take even more time for baking, processing and testing. And no marijuana kitchens have been licensed by the state agriculture department yet.

Cooper is optimistic that Monkey Grass will be licensed to also grow outdoors soon. He’s already building the facility. Cooper says figuring out this frontier business is too much fun …

Cooper: “… it’s like the wild west.”

He just wishes he could get his product into consumers’ hands a bit quicker. He’s hoping the pot biz chills out by October. By then he plans on being in Maui sipping a little umbrella drink.

Cooper: “Yeah, do I love that plant? It’s been good to me for the last 35-40 years. It’s kept me a little sane I should say. I love my family, I like my weed.”

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