ILWACO — When each fall harvest came in, prices plummeted.
That has largely been the marijuana industry’s pattern for growers in Oregon and Washington. They watch wholesale prices fall to record lows each winter when an oversupply from outdoor marijuana harvests saturate markets for months.
This season, however, local growers reporting less volatility.
“The outdoor crop used to drop prices around November when it came in,” said Coastal Growers owner Marty Junge during a late December harvest in Ilwaco. “In the last few years it’s been less and less.”
As a tier-1 grower, the smallest of Washington’s three classifications, Junge, 62, is permitted to grow 2,000-square-feet of canopy, enough room for approximately 500 plants. He harvests weekly using a perpetual garden method in a refurbished barn outside Ilwaco, one of 19 licensed marijuana growers in Pacific County.
All in the oil
Local marijuana growers are increasingly improving their crop with each harvest by selectively breeding characteristics that will appeal to customers at the counter.
“I started with 47 strains and whittled it down to 18,” Junge said regarding the process of picking the strains the exhibited the traits he felt were most important. “I’m after the potency and flavor in the oil.”
Junge personally prefers sweeter, fruitier strains that have hints of orange and lemon, but some of his danker, diesel strains are among his most popular with customers. One strain in particular, called Girl Scout Cookies, or GSC, is increasingly sought by growers because of its consistency in producing a high THC (tetrahydrocannaninol) content along with a desirable smell and appearance.
“The smell is everything,” Junge said. “Your nose will tell you if the pot has a heavy oil content. The flavor is in the oil — everything is in the oil.”
Contained in the THC oil are different cannabinoids that can influence the high a consumer experiences.
“There’s no inherent flavor or potency in leaf, stem or flower itself,” Junge said. “It’s in the oil that that the plant produces.”
The goal for many indoor growers is to produce a marijuana that produces a lot of oil — a natural sunscreen and defense mechanism for the plant.
“The more you irritate the plant, the more oil it will throw,” Junge said.
Inside an old barn on the outskirts of Ilwaco, Junge, a former mason, recreates conditions found more than 6,000 miles away.
“I stimulate them with a spectrum of light that makes the plant think it’s at 8,000 feet in Afghanistan,” he explained.
“It’s heavy in UVA and UVB light. The plant responds to the irritation of the ultraviolet by producing oil, and that’s where the THC is. It’s there to protect the flower like a sunscreen.”
The result is a resinous plant with high concentrations of oil. His latest December crop of Gorilla Glue and GSC are among his highest testing to date, approaching nearly 30 percent THC, a number rarely reached.
No sniff zone
Washington marijuana growers and retailers are at a distinct disadvantage compared to their counterparts in Oregon.
In Oregon, and all the other states where marijuana has been legalized recreationally, consumers are permitted to smell the marijuana before purchasing, an important evaluative practice unavailable to Washington buyers.
“It’s quite a disadvantage in the state of Washington. You can’t put your nose in a jar,” Junge said. “But the rules are what they are.”
Terpenes, the aromatic oils that give strains their unique smell and taste, are an important consideration for consumers when they’re deciding which pot to purchase at the counter. Citrus, berry, mint, pine are among the more than 100 terpene profiles that have been identified with different corresponding effects, from stress relief to improving motivation. The woody, earthy, piney aroma of OG Kush, for example, is known for its anti-inflammatory and pain-relief effects, containing the terpene pinene. One of Junge’s most popular strains is his B-52, a rare cross with Lemon Larry, with Limonene profile.
“People just love the lemon-citrus-orange-tangerine smell,” Junge said. “But the important thing is that it’s potent.”
Indoor and outdoor
As marijuana markets continue to mature, indoor and outdoor growers are beginning to find their respective niches.
Outdoor growers typically harvest once a year, which can be a burden to process and cure properly. As a result, outdoor-grown marijuana is increasingly being converted into concentrates such as oil or wax, where the appearance of the pot is less important and the process results in a better end product.
“Concentrates are a good market if your product is mediocre,” Junge said. “You can upgrade mediocre pot into some pretty good concentrates.”
As an indoor grower, Junge has complete control over the conditions, which he believes leads to more potent pot.
“An outdoor plant is just a plant, but an indoor plant is nothing but flower,” he said. “There’s a big difference.”
It currently costs Junge around 28 cents a gram to produce his marijuana, which in turn sells for $9 per gram on store shelves less than three miles away.
In spite of some price fluctuations, Junge said sales are up 60 percent over the past four months.
“The average price has gone up as more people realize that indoor pot has more flavor and potency than outdoor pot,” he said. Under the Coastal Growers label, Junge’s marijuana is now available in five shops across Washington including locally at Mr. Doobees in Seaview.