August was a busy month for Karen Stratton.
Not only was she appointed to the Spokane City Council. She also planted her first marijuana crop.
Stratton owns a marijuana farm with her husband, Chris Wright, two other family members and an unnamed partner. After spending tens of thousands of dollars on the operation – including $20,000 on security infrastructure – they planted their first crop in the Spangle area in August.
“I asked myself, would it be any different if we opened a winery?” Stratton said. “Or if we sold spirits. I decided it wasn’t.”
Wright, an attorney who sits on the city’s Park Board, said the responses he’s received about his new side venture range “from curiosity to unbridled support.”
“We’re in partnership with the state. That’s how we like to look at it,” he said. “Really, we have no idea what to expect. We’re new to this.”
While the two say they don’t use marijuana, they say they wanted to help bring it into “the mainstream” while potentially making a good profit.
“Before 502, this wasn’t on my horizon,” Wright said of the state ballot measure that legalized marijuana in 2012. “But I’m a child of the ’70s. I’ve never had a philosophical problem with it.”
Wright said his interest in the business was sparked by a client who was considering opening a marijuana operation.
Stratton will find out next year if voters in northwest Spokane are OK with their representative working in the marijuana trade, when she runs for the seat she was appointed to this summer after Steve Salvatori resigned and moved to Texas for work reasons.
The 2012 initiative allowing adults to use pot passed in Spokane County with 52 percent of voters approving. Unsurprisingly, the most supportive precincts were within the city’s borders. Statewide, the ballot measure received about 56 percent of the vote.
Stratton said she’s not worried.
“People are going to judge, either way,” she said. “But at least they can’t say I’m trying to hide it.”
Stratton said she informed most other council members of the farm before they picked her to join the council. However, she didn’t tell Mayor David Condon or council members Mike Allen and Mike Fagan.
Council President Ben Stuckart said Stratton was “very upfront,” and no one she told on the council had concerns.
“I think of it only as a product that the citizens say is legal,” he said. “They made a business decision.”
Stuckart said he believed “reasonable people” wouldn’t hold Stratton’s marijuana venture against her next year when she’s on the ballot because he “trusts that voters are going to see she’s doing her job.”
“She’s been very thoughtful about her decision-making process. She’s very knowledgeable about City Hall,” Stuckart said. “She’s been able to point me in the right directions and I’ve been here three and a half years.”
Before Stratton was chosen to join the council, The Spokesman-Review sent her and the other candidates a questionnaire, which asked about their support of marijuana legalization.
“The criminalization of marijuana many decades ago was based on hysteria, not fact, and it’s time we relieved our law enforcement from enforcing ridiculous marijuana laws,” Stratton wrote then.
“It’s legal,” she said Friday. “If you’re to do this, it’s better to do in an environment that’s heavily regulated.”
Heavy regulation led to Wright and Stratton purchasing 34 security cameras and enough digital storage for 45 days of continuous footage from those cameras. Their farm is insured through Lloyd’s of London, and their “plastic and plywood” hoop houses are part of a “grow park” with seven other tenants. No one under the age of 21 is allowed into the park. Same goes for firearms. The owner of the park is also a grower, or producer, and he has a processing license. Stratton and Wright plan to use him when their crop is ready.
When the harvest comes in early November, Stratton said she won’t try it, which she admitted to doing when she was younger.
“I’m not a user. It’s just not my thing,” she said. “I have a glass of wine and I fall asleep.”