Winter is coming. If this year bears any resemblance to last year, marijuana farmers are in for a bleak season.
"It was really hard to make a living in this business from November to February," says Frank Schade, owner of Green Surfer Marijuana Farm. "I couldn't grow enough until about November, when other operations came up and running. It was the perfect storm."
Limited licensed recreational dispensaries, paired with an abundance of growers, dropped prices from $15 to $5 a gram. In his first month, Schade made almost $30,000, but by winter he struggled to move product.
"A gradual drop in prices was predictable, but I think a lot of farms weren't ready for such drastic ups and downs," Schade says.
Green Surfer Marijuana Farm operates on 1,300 square feet in Mead and produces upward of 40 strains. Popular strains like Blue Boy, Blue Surfer and Orange Kush are sold locally at Satori and used in edibles from Henderson Distribution Bakery.
Three grow rooms produce anywhere from 5 to 10 pounds of weed each month but are capable of much more, with orders pending from Seattle. Schade is at a crossroads, considering whether to apply for a farm expansion through the state or dive into a consulting business.
"Not to use a cheesy pun, but there are definitely a lot of ways to skin this cat," he says.
Schade has diversified his business, selling trim to extract companies, supplying bakeries and working as a grow consultant with larger Tier 2 farms like Root Down in Spokane.
"I've got a little bit of a pioneer spirit about me," he says. "It was neat to have the opportunity to be at the forefront of an industry that was taboo... but you gotta want it."
Growers like Schade are hopeful that Washington state's new tax structure — a single excise tax of 37 percent at the point of sale — will keep small farms in business. Meanwhile, large farms are monopolizing talent — everyone from master growers to trimmers. Schade says he has hit his stride as a consultant.
"Things are going good for me right now," he says. "I've learned a lot of ways to make it work. ... I grow pot for Washington state. For better or worse, I'm the luckiest man on earth." ♦