Ebey Island farmer says he may seek to grow marijuana

EBEY ISLAND — Bruce King has been raising pigs in the Snohomish River Valley for seven years.

The land, adjacent to the U.S. 2 trestle, is low, flat and prone to flooding. But it has its benefits. “As a retail place to sell pigs, it’s fabulous,” King said.

Since the passage of the state’s initiative to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults, King has been giving serious thought to growing marijuana.

King said he’s not the only farmer in the area thinking about legally growing pot. “Every single farmer I’ve talked to has had this thought cross their mind,” he said.

The new state system, regulated by the state’s Liquor Control Board, would license marijuana producers, processors and retailers, with the first stores scheduled to open in 2014.

“I’ve never smoked pot and have no interest in doing drugs,” he said.

Yet King, 49, said he thinks the law will set off a pot boom, a kind of agricultural Gold Rush. “Who will bring the crop to market first?” he asked.

The Liquor Control Board has been getting lots of calls from people interested in producing pot for sale in the new state system, some of whom say they’re growing pot now, said Brian Smith, an agency spokesman.

The state agency is accepting public comment on rules for growers and will hold two public hearings in April before adopting the final regulations in May.

King said he’d like to see farmers get the first shot at the state’s licenses for pot growers.

“There’s no reason we can’t have people in this economy benefit from what they voted for,” he said.

“My attitude toward people who use pot has changed,” he said. “It’s a legal product.”

The state application fee for each producer license is $250, with an annual $1,000 charge to renew the license.

King said he hasn’t committed to growing pot, but has done some business calculations. “It just looked good, every time I ran the numbers,” he said.

He figures the net return for growing pot could be $60,000 an acre. “That beats the heck out of milk,” he said. “Somebody’s got to grow it.”

Growing pot would be something of a market switch for a farmer who sold 2,300 pigs last year.

He already has a greenhouse, which produced 15 tons of basil last summer and in which he also grows tomatoes, melons and lettuce.

That greenhouse probably wouldn’t be tall enough to grow marijuana plants, he said. But he’s been pricing greenhouses large enough to grow pot.

He said his biggest concerns are what, exactly, the state’s regulations for growers will be and whether the federal government will take any actions to slow or halt the state’s marijuana law. Marijuana growing, distribution and possession remain violations of federal law.

In December, President Barack Obama said that prosecuting recreational users in Washington and Colorado, the states that have legalized it, wouldn’t make sense. But the Justice Department has yet to issues its guidelines.

King remains intrigued with the possibility of becoming a legal marijuana grower.

“If I choose to grow it, I will screw up my first crop, maybe my first 10 crops,” he said. But the risk is worth it, King said.

“There isn’t another crop on this earth that has the kind of profit potential this one does,” he said.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com.

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