Pubdate: Sun, 16 Aug 2015
Source: Columbian, The (WA)
Copyright: 2015 The Columbian Publishing Co.
Author: Justin Runquist


Clark County Marijuana Growers, Retail Shops Turn to Tourism, 
Increasing Presence at Community Events to Attract Customers to Their 
Products and Facilities

With the sun rising and roosters crowing, Josh Miller rolls out of a 
bed tucked in a greenhouse full of lush marijuana plants and lights up a joint.

That's how the Seattle attorney starts his day every time he stays at 
Tom Lauerman's organic marijuana farm, named the Garden of the Green 
Sun, in Vancouver.

"It's wonderful," Miller said one day last week at the greenhouse. "I 
do my morning routine. Listen to music, and well, smoke a joint and 
whatever else comes to me."

Lauerman, a medical marijuana grower colloquially known as Farmer 
Tom, recently opened the greenhouse as a place for friends, family 
and even tourists to spend the night. Furnished with a queen-size 
bed, a workspace with Wi-Fi service, a meeting area with a table made 
out of an old tree stump, the greenhouse also has become a popular 
office and sleeping space for lawyers, policymakers and other leaders 
in the medical marijuana arena.

"Somebody will be occupying the bed all the way through harvest," 
Lauerman said. "As far as tourism, I don't think I've seen anybody do 
anything like this before."

The quasi-bed-and-breakfast is just one example of the creative 
approaches marijuana business owners are taking to get around state 
laws restricting tourism options for Clark County's budding legal 
marijuana scene.

This summer, state lawmakers enacted House Bill 2136, which made a 
number of sweeping changes to the recreational marijuana industry. 
Among the key provisions was a new ban on any kind of lounge or club 
where people can consume cannabis. The broad language disappointed 
many marijuana entrepreneurs, dashing their hopes of providing some 
kind of business where tourists can smoke.

"The industry has been a work-around forever," Lauerman said. "They 
just give us new things to work around."

Under the new law, the limitations are hazy on the prospects of 
running a bed-and-breakfast where marijuana can be consumed.

"As I understand it, the state law prohibiting smoking in public 
places would not allow a 'marijuana-type' B&B as it is open to the 
public and would presumably have employees," said Chad Eiken, 
director of Vancouver's Community and Economic Development 
Department. Eiken added that it is unclear whether Airbnb rentals 
would be considered a business or public space under the state's ban 
on smoking in public places.

But Lauerman takes a cautious approach, charging $75 apiece strictly 
for tours of his farm, while letting visitors sleep in the greenhouse 
at no cost.

"I ask for a donation, but it's basically free," he said. "It's just 
been for friends and family, but if people want to come and stay, 
they're more than welcome."

Sandwiched between a chicken coop and another greenhouse with plants 
the height of professional basketball players, the greenhouse makes 
work feel more like play, said Miller, who has stayed there several times.

"It's really a beautiful environment," he said. "For any guest who 
reserves a night here, you're welcome like family, as well."

Lauerman often seems to have company at the farm. Several people have 
set up tents in a small wooded area, and just behind the greenhouse, 
Lauerman has a teepee to accommodate more guests.

Last week, Miller spent a few nights at the farm, as he and several 
others hosted federal agents from the occupational safety arm of the 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lauerman is helping put 
together a safety manual for medical marijuana workers. To Miller, 
hosting the federal government was a milestone for an industry that 
remains illegal at that level.

"For the first time, to our knowledge and their knowledge, in 
history, they're here for education and more discovery and 
investigative-type purposes as opposed to enforcement purposes," Miller said.

Within tight confines

Major players on the recreational market are opening their own 
tourism ventures in Clark County, as well, demonstrating creative 
ways to market within the tight confines of state law.

Main Street Marijuana is working on opening a gift shop just across 
the street from the store in Uptown Village.

Vancouver's other high-grossing store, New Vansterdam, made the first 
appearance for a pot shop at the recent Vancouver Brewfest. The 
store's presence was impossible to miss. Every glass handed out at 
the entrance featured New Vansterdam's name. Signs advertising for 
the store adorned the fences around Esther Short Park in downtown 
Vancouver. And several representatives from the store's marketing 
team set up a booth to greet the thousands of attendees walking by each day.

"For us, it's all about connecting with the community," said 
Shon-Lueiss Harris, New Vansterdam's spokesman. "The people who are 
coming in appreciate craft beer, and they have that same palate, that 
same sense of 'This is local.' "

The team designed a glossy guide showing recommended pot and beer 
pairings. It was a big hit with the crowd, Harris said.

Beyond aiming to boost sales, the store's presence was an effort to 
bridge the cultural gap between marijuana and beer. Hops and 
marijuana belong to the same small family of flowering plants, known 
as cannabaceae.

"We're just trying to de-stigmatize it," Harris said. "They're 
basically cousins."

Popular Seattle-based edibles manufacturer Zoots also came to 
Brewfest, setting up its own booth next to New Vansterdam and showing 
passers-by how to make marijuana-infused drinks.

Under state law, recreational cannabis cannot be consumed in public 
places, nor can it be sold outside of a pot shop, so neither Zoots 
nor New Vansterdam sold marijuana at Brewfest. Instead, New 
Vansterdam hired a limo driver to give free rides back to the store, 
a plan that proved to be a nice shot in the arm for weekend sales, Harris said.

"We had a ton of people come in saying it was their first time and 
that they had never seen the store before," Harris said.

Brewfest was big for New Vansterdam's weekend sales, but it also was 
just the start of the store's effort to have a greater presence at 
local events, he said. With plans for new locations opening on both 
sides of the Columbia River, the company's marketing team will make 
an appearance at several other local events in the coming months.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom