DARRINGTON — There was something in the air in the mountain town of Darrington. Something stinky.
And locals noticed when pungent marijuana began to overwhelm the neighborhood.
The source? Green Haven. The cannabis producer sits just a few hundred feet from homes and has been the subject of sporadic odor-related complaints over the years.
But a recent mishap created what owner Vince Nguyen likened to a “stink bomb.”
Neighbors hashed it out on a community Facebook page in October, arguing the air smelled like “a skunk smoking weed.”
“Money for the town,” one contended.
It was fresh cannabis they were smelling: strains like “Mac and Cheese,” “Where’s My Bike?” and “Miracle Whip.”
“There’s been some days where I’m outside working for five to six hours and it’s all I can smell,” said Jason Biller, who lives about a quarter-mile from Green Haven. He said he noticed the smell when he moved back to Darrington in February.
After Washington voters legalized marijuana, Darrington maintained a moratorium on commercial cannabis grows. The ban expired before Nguyen opened Green Haven in 2016.
Mayor Dan Rankin is on the phone with Nguyen a few times a year to discuss odor. It’s not exactly a normal mayoral duty, but Darrington is a small town.
The unmarked warehouse is easy to miss. While pumping out up to 300 pounds of bud a month, carbon filters and negative pressure work to eliminate the odor. Over a few weeks this fall, filtered vents slowly failed, one by one.
“And we didn’t even notice,” Nguyen said, standing among hundreds of flowering marijuana plants. “That’s why we had the chaos.”
The vents are “like people,” he said. They can break down. Get sick. Fail. And for those constantly surrounded by the sticky stuff, it’s hard to notice the smell of fresh reefer where it shouldn’t be.
Nguyen has found himself in the local IGA, for example, unaware of just how pungent his work clothes are. Hushed voices commenting on the smell tipped him off.
Green Haven has since restored the air pressure and fixed the filtered vents. Nguyen said he let his guard down and feels bad about the whole thing.
When smelly mistakes happen, Nguyen said, the blame seems to fall on Rankin, the city’s mayor of 10 years.
“I feel like if I do something bad that means I fail him, you know?” Nguyen said. “He’s the leader here and he’s the one taking all the heat.”
“I wear too many hats,” Rankin said, leaning against planks of wood at his one-man sawmill. Although the city doesn’t regulate air quality or odor, he said, “they need to be good neighbors.”
Online, some said they liked the smell.
Darrington resident Tanja Hawkinson hates it but recognizes its “peeps making a living.”
To the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, the question of whether it reeks or rules is irrelevant. Even delicious smells can constitute a nuisance. Compliance Director Steve Van Slyke recalled one case where French onion soup simmering in a factory was strong enough to prompt enforcement.
About half of complaints to the regulatory body are about odor. But in general, catching a whiff is “a lucky shot,” Van Slyke said. An inspector has to go to the site, smell it and determine the source.
To get written up, it has to rise to “Level 2” — a “distinct and definite” odor.
(You don’t want a Level 4: “The odor is so strong that a person does not want to remain present.”)
Green Haven had to get air quality permits from the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.
The Legislature has also taken on cannabis odor. Last year, three lawmakers pushed for a marijuana odor task force, only for the effort to flame out under budget constraints.
Some in the industry responded to the task force with a huff, lamenting it as over-regulation. It’s a sentiment summed up by one Darrington Facebook commenter, who asked, “What’s next, the fart police?”
If Nguyen were to do it all again, he’d probably choose to grow in Eastern Washington. A 200-acre plot would insulate his plants from neighboring noses.
“I could stink the whole (gosh darn) place up and nobody would care,” he said.
(Nguyen did not actually say the words “gosh darn.”)
But deep down, Nguyen said he wants to stay in Darrington. He plans to expand.
Nguyen immigrated from Vietnam. For a while he lived in Granite Falls and later moved up the Mountain Loop. After the 2008 recession, he learned the ropes of medical marijuana from a Craigslist stranger. Nguyen met the man at a gas station, where he insisted on blindfolding Nguyen to keep the location of his valuable plants a secret.
Nguyen was terrified. But it worked out. He soon discovered he had a knack for growing. Years later, Nguyen’s growing and processing facility clones and re-clones about 150 strains. Product is delivered to dozens of dispensaries statewide, and the business rakes in a few million dollars per year.
Tens of thousands of that has been donated to local organizations and public parks. Rankin said Nguyen is to thank for the town’s Fourth of July fireworks show. And the jobs Green Haven brought to the community have been good for the economy, he said.
Rankin calls Darrington “paradise.”
“There’s nothing to dislike about this town,” Nguyen agreed.
Nguyen likes the people and the mountains. The weather, he said, is great for his crops. And sometimes the air smells like money.