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Wednesday, July 8, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Essential growth: Producers thrive in a changed world

Grow Op Farms, a cannabis producer based in Spokane Valley, has rearranged work and lunch spaces to following 6-foot social distancing guidelines. (COURTESY GROW OP FARMS)
Grow Op Farms, a cannabis producer based in Spokane Valley, has rearranged work and lunch spaces to following 6-foot social distancing guidelines. (COURTESY GROW OP FARMS)
Kate A. Miner EVERCANNABIS Correspondent

These are strange times for everyone, and the last few months have been devastating to many businesses. But one industry in Washington continues to thrive: cannabis.

Considered essential, retailers, farms and processors are still scrambling to keep up with the demand. According to Marijuana Business Daily, cannabis sales in both Colorado and Washington continue to rise, quickly eclipsing sales at this same time in 2019.

In general, April is typically the biggest month across the industry with the celebration of 4/20, and –despite the lack of typical events surrounding the holiday – sales were still significantly greater than last year.

Grow facilities, for example, can barely keep up with the demand. Grow Op Farms, the home of Phat Panda and other products, based in Spokane Valley, has hundreds of employees working full time while practicing social distancing.

“Processing and lunchroom areas have been spaced out so there are no more than two to a table, all masked, with 6-foot distancing constantly enforced,” explained Katrina McKinley, COO for Grow Op Farms. “Everyone used to eat lunch together, now the lunch groups have been divided to help with social distancing.”

To make sure everyone is maintaining the highest standards, the team at Grow Op Farms is cleaning around the clock and disinfecting all surface areas every 30 minutes. Sick policies are also being heavily enforced, which means if you do not feel well you are asked to stay home, which some folks have taken advantage of. For the most part however, everyone is happy to be working.

“We can barely keep up with the demand,” McKinley said in May. “It’s crazy. And it keeps steadily increasing. We’re having the biggest months we’ve ever had.”

For some growers, like Buddy Boy Farm in northwest Spokane, temperatures are taken upon entry for all employees. Strict protocols have been created about staying home if you are sick, and Buddy Boy took it one step further.

“We have given the older or at-risk employees, or those with at-risk family members, the option of going on standby,” said Galadriel Walser, general manager for Buddy Boy Farm. “Some of our older employees opted for this, but most wanted to work.”

Like other growers, they are respecting social distancing and asking that folks try to abide by these guidelines at home too.

Everyone is required to wear a mask, and hand sanitizer bottles are everywhere. Delivery drivers always are required to wear masks and gloves, and drivers’ pay was increased. Additionally, no drivers are required to stay at a retailer for counts.

“It’s a team effort,” said Walser. “We’re trying to buy local for lunches to support surrounding farms and local businesses, and all our teams are working very hard. Business is booming, and we can only pack up so much, and it never seems to be enough.”

She said Buddy Boy harvests product every week, but can’t grow it fast enough.

“With this significant increase in sales and demand, the hope is that the cannabis industry will not be so strictly regulated in the future,” she said. “Although considered an essential business by medical standards, we are not allowed the perks most businesses are receiving during this crisis.”

For Evergreen Herbal, a food manufacturer in Seattle known for cannabis-infused edibles and beverages, it’s business as usual with some changes that will most likely remain for months.

“In many ways, this has made our business better,” said Andrew Brassington, Evergreen Herbal president. “We manufacture and process food, so we already had many of the sanitizing standards in place, but it has all been increased.”

He said everyone must regularly sanitize their hands, wear hair nets, sanitized lab jackets and gloves, and foot baths now are required. There are blue Xs throughout the facility to indicate 6-foot distancing, and many employees are working remotely. Delivery drivers wear masks and gloves, and constantly use alcohol sprays and wipes. The facility is washed and disinfected daily, and hand washing stations have been installed.

“We plan to maintain this level of scrutiny for a minimum of four months and it may become the new norm moving forward. Productivity and morale have increased, and those working from home are not as stressed out,” Brassington said. “We all love not having to deal with traffic. All these changes have become unintended perks, making our business more productive.”

Kate A. Miner has a degree in visual anthropology, and has worked in marketing and advertising for many years. She writes, takes photos and teaches yoga.

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