Along the hills leading to Mount Spokane, Frank Schade has turned an old warehouse building into an indoor farm with the newly legal and valuable crop: marijuana.
He’s set up security cameras and alarms, purchased the best in organic and natural products and brought in cultivars that are sure to find favor in the market, he said.
Schade says he is on course to become one of the state’s newest marijuana millionaires thanks to the voter-approved initiative measure two years ago.
As the first retail outlets prepare to open on Tuesday, Schade, a licensed marijuana grower, plans to have some of his product on the shelf – as long as supplies last, he said.
The emerging business is like a modern-day gold rush, and “I’ve got a honey hole,” he said.
Schade is the seventh grower in Washington to be licensed, he said. That was back in April. He has invested $100,000 in getting set up and complying with state regulations at his fenced location on North Forker Road.
He said he obtained his plants and a lot of his know-how from legal medical marijuana cultivation and even had a hand in developing some of his own cultivars. They are a cross between the two main subspecies of the plant – Cannabis sativa from the Western Hemisphere and Cannabis indica from Asia and North Africa.
The cultivars go by names like Northern Lights, Dutch Passion, Blue Dream, L.A. Cheese and Jack Haze. They differ in the effect on the body, with some favored for medicinal use over others.
Schade’s own plants play off his business name of Green Surfer. Customers who want to try his product should look for Purple or Silver Surfer.
He said he expects a shortage of supply for the first six to 12 months of legal sales. Growers and retailers are setting an initial retail price at $25 a gram, more than double the long-standing black market price of $10 a gram. The legal retail price should eventually come down to about that level or lower, he said.
Everyone knows that if you give the plants water, fertilizer and light they will grow.
“It’s a lot like a tomato farm,” Schade said.
Schade starts his plants from cuttings, also called clones, in a small nursery area with a drip water system to keep the slips hydrated. Once they are rooted, they are moved to the vegetation room, where they are placed under high intensity lamps that provide a blue spectrum of light to mimic spring and early summer.
Marijuana is dioecious, meaning there are male and female plants. The female flowers, if left unfertilized by male pollen, develop the large flower buds with the higher levels of drug compounds.
After the plants get several feet tall, Schade moves them into the flower or bud room where the light is cut to 12 hours a day to mimic the approach of autumn when the plants would bloom in nature, much like a Christmas cactus or poinsettia. Schade even uses a different artificial light spectrum that has more yellow and orange to create his own fall effect indoors.
To get the maximum size and potency out of his plants, Schade uses an organic potting medium with seabird guano, kelp meal and oyster shell flour among its contents. He mixes that with a special type of sand so the roots get plenty of air. He applies probiotics and supplements the nutrients by feeding the leaves with a fertilizer solution. A gallon of liquid Aqua Flakes fertilizer costs $130.
He pumps carbon dioxide into his growing rooms to promote plant metabolism.
“I’m a pretty good pot grower,” Schade said.
Should pests or diseases turn up, he said he will use only products that are considered organic, although the state is allowing a range of pesticides.
Curing the harvested plants is a science of its own, Schade said.
All of the plants will be tested for potency and pesticide residue, and each plant will be tracked with a unique identifying code. Schade said he expects his plants to test out at 15 to 22 percent of the active compound known by the initials THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol.
While the flower buds become product for recreational drug use, the stems and leaves probably won’t go to waste.
Schade said they are valuable for hemp products and infused beers, and may go for as much as $200 a pound.
Not all of his neighbors are happy with his arrival. At a recent public hearing before the Spokane County commissioners last month, residents along Forker Road complained that they were not notified in advance. The same complaint was heard from other agricultural neighborhoods.
County officials explained that marijuana is legal to grow in agricultural zones and is not subject to special notice or a conditional use permit.
Residents at the hearing said they are concerned about growing operations drawing crime to their neighborhoods.
Schade told commissioners that the fears are unfounded.
During a later interview, he said he understands the concerns and would be happy to answer any questions his neighbors might have.
“The snack section at 7-Eleven should be concerned, but not many others,” he said.