Local entrepreneur looking to open marijuana grow operation

RAYMOND, Wash. -- It could be a first for our state: A public agency has signed a lease to allow a potential marijuana grow operation on public property.

The Port of Willapa Harbor has come to terms with a well-known Seattle restaurant and night club entrepreneur to allow a cannabis production facility on 16 acres at Stan Hatfield Industrial Park near Raymond Washington.

Marcus Charles, the man behind venues like the Crocodile Caf, 360 and Juju, wants to hire upwards to 50 people to work at his operation, which now houses a go-cart track in the shell of what was an old saw mill.

"Essentially, we'll be growing cannabis plants and then process that into oils," Charles said.

Terms of the two year lease call for Charles' management company to pay the Port $4,800 a month plus taxes. According to the Port of Willapa Harbor Manager, Rebecca Chaffee, there are many regulatory contingencies that would let Charles get out of the lease.

The Washington State Liquor Control board has not set up the rules a licensee must follow to grow, produce or sell marijuana as required by Initiative 502. A rule unacceptable to Charles would likely get out of the lease. The rules growers must follow are expected to be out by summer.

The federal government could provide the biggest blow to the state's new marijuana law by suing the state to stop it. That's also a condition Charles could use to get out of the lease, according to Chaffee.

"We have an abandoned facility with the potential high-value use, so we are willing take the risk," Chaffee said.

She said the county sheriff, city leaders of Raymond and county lawmakers are all on board with the plan.

"Next to Weyerhaeuser, this would be the second largest private employer in the city of Raymond," Chaffee said.

Raymond, a city of nearly 3,000 people, has been suffering under the long term decline of the lumber business. A large scale marijuana grow operation would help the city's economy according to Chaffee.

"We feel this is a business lease to a businessman we feel is very credible," Chaffee said. "We hope he will be successful, because if he's successful it will help the community and that's what we are looking for."

Charles has been looking for a location to build his marijuana plant for months and eventually settled on the Raymond site because it already has a large warehouse-size structure that can be renovated into a three tier grow operation.

"We really like Raymond because of the natural work force that is indigenous to the area, and they want us to be there and we wanted to be there," he said.

Timber for pot maybe Raymond's new future.
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