The Tualco Valley, the fertile lowland just south of Monroe through which curves SR 203 and the Snoqualmie River as it meets the Skykomish, has been scene to many agricultural trends through the changing times.
A prison farm used to raise cows, flax was farmed for spinning to linen, pea vines once towered over the heads of pickers there, and celery and mint were grown until the 1970s until replaced by berries, organic produce and Hmong flower farmers.
Soon, a new crop will arrive with yet another changing of the times.
The Tualco Valley is currently on track to get its first-ever legal marijuana-growing operation.
Unlike most crops that have been grown in the lush river valley, this marijuana will be farmed indoors.
The applicants, Brad and Jeannie Elledge, successful local business owners and long-time residents, plan to add two 50’ x 80’ structures to their existing nine-acre business, All Seasons Stone and Landscape.
They plan to employ about five people, and hope to finish construction within three months of getting their permits, potentially by November of 2014.
The Elledges will need to clear several hurdles for the $200,000 project, including getting a permit to build within the river shoreline area.
But the county last year established a welcoming position on marijuana agriculture.
In a 2013 ordinance, the county reiterated several of its policies, including the maintenance of a healthy economy, the protection of the character of rural and agricultural areas, and the encouragement of agricultural industries. The ordinance then declared marijuana production consistent with those policies, and decreed that marijuana agriculture was appropriate for Agriculture 10, Rural Industrial and Rural 5 zones.
The Tualco Valley project, called “Valley Farm,” falls into Ag 10 zoning.
There are many state laws strictly regulating the operation of all marijuana growing facilities in the state.
The goal of the state is to track marijuana production from seed to sale, and to secure the crop safely from theft.
All marijuana businesses are required to have surveillance cameras and alarms. They also have to have strict records of the transportation, growth and sale of the product, as well as other transactions.
Farms must be operated between 8 a.m. and midnight.
Farms have to use sophisticated software that traces the product from a seed or a clone to sale to a processor or retailer.
Farms can only have an amount of product on hand equal to 125 percent of what they grow in a year.
Everyone working on the farm, including the owners, have to be able to pass a background check and to submit fingerprints.
And everything grown has to pass safety and quality tests.
Because of the requirement that all marijuana grown for commercial purposes be tracked from seed to sale, Washington’s legal marijuana retail industry has been a lot slower to get to the retail stage than was that of Colorado, which legalized the recreational use of the drug at the same time as Washington.
Colorado simply allowed people who had been growing marijuana for medical use to sell their products to retailers, so there was an instant inventory when sales became legal in January.
But since would-be commercial growers in Washington have to go through a permit process and then start their crops from scratch, there isn’t likely to be a glut of marijuana available for sale when such sales become legal next month.
Nor will there be many stores selling what pot there is; only about 20 retailers are expected to have their licenses to sell by July 1.
Monroe was one of the cities approved for a retail store by the state liquor board, but don’t look for a smoke shop featuring the new Tualco Valley crop anytime soon; the city has banned any such store.
Early results of legalization in Colorado have been encouraging for Washington’s marijuana boosters; crime in Denver dropped 10 percent since January over the first five months of 2013, and so far that state has realized $18 million in taxes and licensing fees. The governor of Colorado predicts that in the fiscal year beginning in July that the state will collect as much as $114 million.