Summer in Washington is wonderful for many reasons, one of them being the abundance of farmers markets. Enjoying locally produced agricultural products runs deep in our culture.
According to a report by Washington Policy Center, over 300 crops are grown in Washington State, making the “Evergreen State” second only to California in crop diversity. As of late, Washington is almost as famous for its cannabis as it is for its apples. So, it’s high time cannabis is permitted to be sold in a way that is similar to every other agricultural product.
Micah Sherman, operations manager at Raven Grass, a small cannabis producer in Olympia, is trying to get the ball rolling on creating legislation that would allow cannabis to be sold directly from producers to consumers. That means cannabis could be sold at farmers markets, or onsite at cannabis grows. Sherman has met with Washington State Reps. Beth Doglio and Laurie Dolan and Washington Sen. Sam Hunt to discuss this type of legislation.
“We talked about the state of the cannabis industry in general and some of the difficulties small cannabis producers were experiencing,” Sherman explained to CULTURE. “How some of it was originating from regulatory and law-making decisions that were made at the start of this before there was any understanding of what this industry was going to look like, because it didn’t exist.”
Sherman thinks there are some unintended consequences that disproportionately affect small-time cannabis producers, which stem from early cannabis legislation. In order to create a more robust cannabis marketplace, these issues need to be addressed. One of the ways to resolve the problem is to carve out some direct-sales options for producers.
The legislation which Sherman is advocating for is loosely based on an existing license within Washington State Liquor and Control Board (LCB) for qualifying small-batch breweries, wineries and distilleries to sell their products directly at farmers markets. A similar allowance for cannabis producers could be made for small, qualified cannabis producers, so they could participate in farmers markets, and have small onsite boutique sales, same as small local alcohol producer.
What do regulators think of this kind of legislation? It would stray from the current three-tier system, which is structured similarly to the laws put in place for alcohol, soon after the repeal of alcohol prohibition. Mikhail Carpenter, spokesperson for the LCB gave CULTURE his thoughts on the subject.
“The prohibition on vertical integration is in statute so it would take a legislative change to allow for producer/processors to sell their product to the consumer,” Carpenter wrote. “Plus/minus of vertical integration depends on who you ask. For example, I’ve read it would allow greater connection between growers and consumers, allowing them to buy direct. Conversely, I’ve seen retailers say they have broader inventory and are more responsive to customer needs because they don’t have a mandate to sell their own product.”
“Allowing direct sales would give people who are growing cannabis products the ability to communicate and have relationships directly with their customers in a style similar to a winery or craft distillery.”
Sherman wanted to be clear, that in advocating this type of legislation, he would in no way be trying to break into the cannabis retail business or step on retailers’ toes in any way. The goal would be to simply give small cannabis producers the chance to benefit from the same allowances that breweries, wineries and distilleries currently have.
“Allowing direct sales would give people who are growing cannabis products the ability to communicate and have relationships directly with their customers in a style similar to a winery or craft distillery. Where you can go in, tour the facility, see what they’re up to,” Sherman stated. “It’s not the type of place that you buy a majority of your wine or spirits, but they’re really important financially to microbreweries, craft distilleries and wineries; that’s a big part of how they make a living.”
To promote the diversity of cannabis businesses, regulators need to give the little guys a chance. Integrating cannabis into Washington’s small farm economy through farmers markets and farm stores would offer a solution. Cannabis retailers have no need to worry about the competition. After all, being able to go to the farmers market to buy a bottle of wine hasn’t had an effect on wine sales anywhere else.