Growing Pot And Breaking A Stigma

By Josh Babcock
Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Moscow, Idaho

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Meet Debra Lantzy, the marijuana entrepreneur whose legal Idaho pot operation — covers about 3,000 square feet. The business includes an old barn and a new building of about 1,700 square feet — all surrounded by barbed wire fencing and more than a dozen cameras.

Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Moscow, Idaho

When Debra Lantzy was growing marijuana in the 1990s she never thought she would see the day she could do it legally, but now she’s one of at least seven marijuana producers in Whitman County licensed by the state.

“We’re in the forest here,” Debra Lantzy said, making her way through the bunches of bushy, dark green marijuana plants growing right next to her home at her marijuana growing operation called Koulee Kush.

Nestled in rural Whitman County on the outskirts of the small town of Garfield, Lantzy, her uncle Charles Lantzy — the investor — and her nephew Doug Lantzy — the master grower — are living out their dreams growing marijuana without breaking the law, and hoping to make a living off it.

“I love marijuana; I love smoking marijuana; I love eating marijuana; when I was growing up I loved growing marijuana,” Debra said. “You didn’t know what it was back then, but I grew some good stuff.”

Despite their love for weed, even after the drug was legalized in Washington state, the three cannabis entrepreneurs had one last hoop to clear — being accepted by their small, rural eastern Washington community.

“We fought it as much as we could just because of what it is,” Garfield Mayor Ray McCown said. “It wasn’t a desirable business, but state law really prevented us from stopping it.”

Garfield residents brought up numerous concerns in 2014 during public hearings and planning commission meetings, including increased crime, sinking property values, the floating odor of marijuana, the potential for organized crime, effects on the local school and the three selling their finished products on the street.

“Marijuana, through the years, has been a dirty word,” McCown said. “We know what it entails, and we really didn’t want anything to do with it. I think every little town in the country probably feels the same way — it’s something no one wanted in their backyard.”

After more than a year of operation, Palouse Police Chief Jerry Neumann, who also oversees law enforcement in Garfield, said he hasn’t seen a spike in crime or any crime whatsoever linked to the business.

“It was just a few old people that believed in that whole Reefer Madness stuff,” Debra said. “They were pretty sure people were going to die from us growing marijuana.”

Whitman County Sheriff Brett Myers said other than a fire that appeared to be caused by faulty wiring at Three G Farms LLC near Endicott, his deputies haven’t had any issues with the county’s legal marijuana operations.

Myers said thieves would be more likely to steal the lighting systems at the grow facilities than the plants, as marijuana plants aren’t nearly as usable as the finished marijuana product in the retail stores. He noted state-licensed operations have higher security than most of the illegal ones in garages or basements and are therefore less likely to be ripped off.

Lantzy said her operation — which covers about 3,000 square feet and includes an old barn and a new building of about 1,700 square feet — is surrounded by barbed wire fencing and more than a dozen cameras.

Myers said he and his deputies don’t watch the businesses any more than any other in the county.

“We’re trying not to get involved, because it is legal,” he said.

Lantzy said her biggest fear is losing everything she’s worked for, but being robbed isn’t something she thinks is likely.

Like Myers, she said, the real money and actual product are at the retail shops.

“All the crime people thought would happen hasn’t happened,” Lantzy said. “That’s the hope, maybe we don’t have to worry about that anymore. You look in Colorado, there’s not much crime — the crime does not follow it.”

Zoning also became a hang up in the small town. Residents said Lantzy’s business was too close to the school and couldn’t be located where it is now.

Lantzy responded by measuring the distance herself and finding the business was more than 1,000 feet from the school.

She said not everyone in Garfield was opposed to her business. She said she received more than 100 signatures on a petition supporting her operation when the topic was a hot discussion in 2014.
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“There’s this stigma the stereotypical stoner smokes out of a bong and eats stuff,” she said. “That’s not the way it is, and people are starting to wake up to that. I hope everyone understands it’s not what you may have been told what it is.”

McCown said there are just a handful of businesses in Garfield, but since Koulee Kush began operating the town has received about $8,000 in additional tax revenue.

“We never realized we were going to get anything,” he said. “We looked it up so far this year, another $4,000, of course that could be because of liquor, too.”

Lantzy hopes to give back to Garfield, not just by padding the city government’s general fund with tax revenue, but maybe by expanding and creating jobs for Garfield residents.

“There’s (currently) no reason to move here unless you work at the school or for the town,” she said.

McCown said he doesn’t know if the business has room to expand.

Lantzy said her first legal plants sprouted from seeds she got off the black market during the Liquor and Cannabis Board’s 15-day grace period in which growers had 15 days to find their seeds before the drug was legalized.

“We see nothing, we know nothing,” Lantzy said, imitating the LCB. “I did go to a friend. I have a strain called Wild Bear that a woman gave me the seeds for.”

Lantzy said producers are now required to get their seeds from other producers, which can be problematic if growers have a strain no one wants to share.

Lantzy said back when marijuana was illegal she used the drug as a substitute to addictive pharmaceutical drugs when she was having health complications.

“I probably could be one of those stories,” she said. “I went through a lot of surgeries and was on opiates for pain control — I credit marijuana for getting me off of those.”

Lantzy said that’s one reason Koulee Kush produces a CBD strain of marijuana, or marijuana that doesn’t contain THC, the chemical responsible for marijuana’s high. One of their most popular strains is their Black Cherry Soda, sold in Pullman, Spokane and Lantzy’s hometown of Wenatchee.

While many may think the Lantzys are getting rich off her dream, she said she is not there yet.

Lantzy said the business is prepared to begin growing marijuana indoors during the cold months, which will hopefully help them start making a profit. She said Koulee Kush is still in the red, as they just began producing marijuana in 2015.

“It’s a family-run and family-started business, a lot of people out here are,” she said. “We are just trying to eke out a living,”

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