A Washington timber town found an answer to its financial needs when legal marijuana growers filled the economic void left by the depressed timber industry. Cannabis advocates have long argued that the economic boost that legal cannabis could bring to not only individual states but possibly the entire country could be a big difference maker. The United states national debt is approaching $20 trillion and the employment sector is dominated by the service industry instead of the much needed manufacturing sector.
Shelton is just a small town in the state of Washington, but it certainly should be an inspirational story that provides hope not only to those that need income, but to the nation as a whole. Would you invite cannabis cultivators to your town if people needed jobs and your town needed financial help?
Steven Fuhr opened the gate guarding his indoor marijuana farm and shaded his eyes against a burst of sunlight.
Crossing the yard bordering his grow, Fuhr stopped to point out his two largest neighbors in the business park: A wood pellet manufacturer to the right; a recently-shuttered power pole mill to the left. In the field between the two, Fuhr could pick out a half-dozen marijuana production facilities, most hidden inside nondescript metal buildings.
Not long ago, this swath of industrial park at the Port of Shelton was buried under piles of lumber. As the timber industry declined, and forest products businesses contracted, legal marijuana producers filled the gaps.
“This has become a cannabis community, when once this entire yard was a lumber storage yard,” Fuhr said. “This was all logging.”
Fuhr’s Toucan Farms is of one of about two dozen marijuana producers that have gravitated to the rural Shelton area in the past three years, in search of cannabis-friendly regulations, cheap land and a low cost of living. In the process, the businesses have injected a welcome jolt of employment and capital to a corner of Puget Sound staggered by lost forestry jobs.
One marijuana startup is investing more than $5 million to transform an abandoned wood products laboratory on the Shelton waterfront into a state-of-the-art growing operation. The Black Diamond Biotech facility will employ about 50 people when it’s up and running later this year. Most will have advanced college degrees.
“We’re bringing back a bunch of PhDs – people with biology, horticulture, biochemistry, genetics, genomics – that otherwise there’d be no reason for,” Black Diamond co-owner Andrew Lange said.
Eager to attract jobs, politicians have reluctantly embraced cannabis as a renewable resource that can help revive the region’s wilted economy. Mason County Commissioner Randy Neatherlin believes marijuana farms already employ hundreds of his constituents.
“That’s buying Christmas presents for kids and putting food on the table,” Neatherlin said. “How do I turn up my nose at that?”
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