The Pacific Northwest has long been the land of plenty as far as awesome cannabis goes. But while having a MMJ card and carrying small amounts has been legal in Washington for some time now, the influx of the recreational shops opening, for better or worse, is changing the landscape—and how those who have been doing business the old-fashioned way for years are doing business now.
Or is it? We talk to one woman who works in the black market about the current state of cannabis in Washington.
How did you come to working with cannabis?
Four years ago my unemployment ran out. I had been working for WaMu [Ed note: Washington Mutual was one of the largest banks to fold in the 2008 economic collapse]. I was there almost nine years and was in one of last departments to close. Then I was on unemployment for two years.
I started baking for these two growers, and we had a booth at a farmer’s medical market out of Tacoma. Then one of the growers opened a store, and we were just growing and baking for that store. I then started baking for other dispensaries.
But I also started working a bit at the store as a budtender/receptionist and learned about the medical side. Before I was always a stoner—I never knew there was a difference between indicas, sativas and hybrids—so I learned a lot and started noticing the differences.
What was budtending like?
It’s kind of hard. You do have days when the bosses are like, “You gotta get rid of this kind.” Some budtenders aren’t always honest. There wasn’t that much testing back then, so you didn’t really know the quality of the strains. People would tell you that it was “top shelf,” but you really didn’t know.
There’s more testing now, and I’m a little more experienced with the medicating. Being a grower now, too, I can tell when something’s clean. I have favorites, and I know what’s good and what’s not.
What happened next?
I realized that I would make more money if I started growing, plus I wasn’t that social so I wasn’t a very good budtender. I went to bartending school, too, and I knew that I didn’t want to do that line of work.
How did you get started growing?
I had met those two growers and worked with them the whole time. Eventually the store owner and the other grower split up. I was hanging out with other guy, and he was my mentor. He’s my partner today. There are a group of growers who work at what we consider our production site—we make our oil, we trim and everything there. Each of us has our own grow going on.
How long have you been growing?
I’m on my third year, and I still don’t know everything. People go to school for botany for growing weed, but I wouldn’t have the patience. My mentor’s been doing it for over 10 years. He’s really good, and he tries to pass on all his knowledge to our collective so even the novice growers don’t have to go through all the common mistakes.
We just opened up a booth at the market in Lake City at Amsterdam Exchange. I sell baked goods a lot. I don’t grow enough to sell to dispensaries, but they don’t pay very much because I don’t grow enough, so I stick to my baked items. I sell to nine different medical dispensaries plus the market.
How did you get into baking?
My cousin was supposed to be the baker for these two guys and didn’t have time, so I stepped in to do it. I was awful at first. I just grinded up the weed and put it in there [laughs].
But my boyfriend used to work as a baker and would make cannabis butter. One day I came home and he had baked everything for me and told me you have to make the butter ahead of time, so he now bakes all the stuff. He tries to select recipes where he can layer it so he can get a lot of medication in there. I handle all the distribution, packaging and sales.
How do you know how much medicine to add?
I just kind of researched it, but really it’s just tasting it and seeing what you prefer. They say it’s always been an ounce to a pound of butter, and we put four ounces to a pound. We label ours “highly medicated.”
The differences are this: If you can’t taste cannabis at all, that’s bud butter. If it’s one where you can taste a little green, that’s from the leaf. Leaf is usually garbage so we don’t mind using a little in there and adding some bud. Our products are labeled at .75 grams [750 milligrams] per bar. [Ed note: The Cannabist reports that Colorado is looking at a recommended 10 milligrams per dose].
Do you have any concerns about what will happen to the medical dispensaries with new regulations?
Yes, I’ve heard for the medical that they want to change it so you can only have three plants. That’s fine if you’re really doing it just for yourself, but a lot of people are living off it [i.e. selling excess]. If there weren’t so many hoops to jump through [for recreational licenses], everyone would be legal. If medical was legal, it would be OK because you can have up to 15 plants.
I calculated it, and I smoke a quarter pound per month, both recreationally and for medicinal purposes. If you’re buying it from a grower, it’s like $600, but buying it from a store, depending on what shelf I pull it from, it would be about $10 per gram, so it would be like paying double [Ed: approximately 113 grams are in a quarter pound. Times $10 = $1,130].
When I first started getting it from these growers, they charged me a lot. But once it went legal, everyone started growing. There is a lot out there on the black market. People can’t afford to apply for the producer licenses and you have to build to their [the State’s] specifications, but they’re growing. And it’s driven prices down on the black market, too.
What would be the point for anyone to go to a recreational store?
I don’t know, you’re not from around here, or you’re a tourist. If I was going out of town and forgot I would stop at a shop, but then I would choose to go to a dispensary.
My mentor’s goal is to eventually open a retail recreational shop. I don’t know yet if I would go in on that. He wants to get a warehouse. I might do that, but I think I’m always going to have my own secret garden, too.
Have you noticed anything else that’s changed the market?
Not really. I have this friend who always says, “When it’s legal, I’ll get my medical card.” Well, it’s legal, and he still hasn’t gotten his MMJ card. He’s all for the recreational. I feel like I’m against it. I don’t really want to go corporate. I have no interest in going to a weed Costco.
How do you feel about Washington’s burgeoning legal scene? Let us know in the comments below.