WHIDBEY ISLAND, Wash. – Here on Puget Sound’s largest island, the enduring appeal of cannabis transcends even the greatest political and social divisions.
Whidbey has two rival populations: one politically conservative and pro-military, the other artsy and politically liberal. The common thread that brings people together? Marijuana.
To the north, you have Oak Harbor, home to bustling Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, where fighter jets roar overhead on training runs nearly every day. In this conservative community, which voted overwhelmingly Republican in the 2020 presidential election, you’ll find the island’s two busiest cannabis outlets, The Green Room and Kaleafa.
On South Whidbey, you have a completely different story in the community of Freeland, which was originally established in 1900 as a socialist commune. Still-liberal Freeland voted Democratic in the last presidential election, and it’s now home to three cannabis stores: Whidbey Island Cannabis Co., Freeland Cannabis and Island Herb.
And just up the road is the artsy community of Greenbank, where the island’s newest cannabis store The Weed Shop serves others on the long, skinny island.
Whidbey’s weed trail
Most visitors to Whidbey Island start from the south, taking the Washington State Ferry from Mukilteo to Clinton. From the ferry, it’s nine miles to Freeland, whose founders had the lofty ambition of providing “free land” to those who signed up for the community’s original socialist experiment.
It didn’t take. Today, Freeland is decidedly a capitalist society, filled with small strip malls and shops.
The first cannabis retailer you’ll see in Freeland is Whidbey Island Cannabis Co., a small building that sits under a large black billboard just off South Whidbey’s main highway, State Route 525.
“You have very different experiences in all the cannabis stores on the island,” said Steven Sutton, budtender and buyer for Whidbey Island Cannabis. “Here, we’re not so crazy busy that we can’t spend 30 minutes with someone to make sure they get what they want.”
Among the unusual offerings at Whidbey Island Cannabis is Dutch Brothers Farms, a high-end producer of craft flower.
Next up on the Whidbey weed tour is Island Herb, a cozy enclave complete with easy chairs and a comfy couch. Island Herb offers a wide variety of unusual flower strains from a variety of producers, including Dawg Star and Hygge Farms.
And on the northern end of Freeland, you’ll find Freeland Cannabis, a small shop in a strip mall right next to the U-Haul rental center. Freeland Cannabis has one distinct advantage over its competitors – an on-premises power generator – store manager Nicole Strasburg says.
“When the power goes off, we stay open,” said Strasburg. “The last time the island lost power, we had our best day ever.”
About seven miles up the road from Freeland sits the community of Greenbank, home of the Whidbey’s 1904-era Greenbank Farm, a popular stop for island visitors, featuring artwork, craft food items and pastoral walking trails. Nearby is Whidbey Island’s newest cannabis outlet, The Weed Shop, established in 2018 in a cute cottage just off State Route 525.
“All of our flower is clean-green, pesticide-free, organic,” said budtender Matthew Huerta.
The shop is dedicated to carrying products by craft producers.
“We’re the only shop on the island that doesn’t carry Phat Panda (the state’s largest producer/processor based in Spokane County),” Huerta said. Instead, The Weed Shop favors smaller producers, such as With It Weed, from Spokane.
Jets and joints
At the north end of Whidbey Island sits the town of Oak Harbor, the island’s biggest town with 23,000 residents. Two busy cannabis stores serve this military-friendly community.
At The Green Room, budtender Aly Lapadakis pointed out the store’s wide menu, which includes flower from Gabriel, Torus, and Falcanna. The store also offers the Cookies brand, which includes the popular Gary Payton strain.
“We have a little bit more variety than the shops on South Whidbey,” Lapadakis said. “People will drive here from Freeland because of what we offer.”
A few blocks away sits Kaleafa, the island’s most popular cannabis shop based on i502 sales data, situated in a strip mall next to a flooring store. Kaleafa was the island’s first cannabis store, open in 2015, and has Whidbey’s largest selection, manager Sean Albano said.
Much of the store’s customer base is retired military, Albano said.
“We get a lot of veterans,” he said, adding that many customers have medical marijuana needs. “Our average customer is probably 50 years old.
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