Cannabis Chronicles BlogThe Columbian / Associated Press

Cannabis tourism industry gets creative

Seattle attorney Josh Miller often stays weekends in farmer Tom Lauerman's cannabis greenhouse when he comes to volunteer on the farm. Lauerman, top, is one of several marijuana entrepreneurs looking for a way around the state's legal ban on creating smoking establishments. (Ariane Kunze/The Columbian)
Seattle attorney Josh Miller often stays weekends in farmer Tom Lauerman’s cannabis greenhouse when he comes to volunteer on the farm. Lauerman, top, is one of several marijuana entrepreneurs looking for a way around the state’s legal ban on creating smoking establishments. (Ariane Kunze/The Columbian)

With the sun rising and roosters crowing, Josh Miller rolls out of a bed tucked in a greenhouse full of lush marijuana plants and lights up a joint.

That’s how the Seattle attorney starts his day every time he stays at Tom Lauerman’s organic marijuana farm, named the Garden of the Green Sun, in Vancouver.

“It’s wonderful,” Miller said one day last week at the greenhouse. “I do my morning routine. Listen to music, and well, smoke a joint and whatever else comes to me.”

Lauerman, a medical marijuana grower colloquially known as Farmer Tom, recently opened the greenhouse as a place for friends, family and even tourists to spend the night. Furnished with a queen-size bed, a workspace with Wi-Fi service, a meeting area with a table made out of an old tree stump, the greenhouse also has become a popular office and sleeping space for lawyers, policymakers and other leaders in the medical marijuana arena.

In addition to growing cannabis, farmer Tom Lauerman has a large garden with a variety of vegetables. (Ariane Kunze/The Columbian)
In addition to growing cannabis, farmer Tom Lauerman has a large garden with a variety of vegetables. (Ariane Kunze/The Columbian)

“Somebody will be occupying the bed all the way through harvest,” Lauerman said. “As far as tourism, I don’t think I’ve seen anybody do anything like this before.”

The quasi-bed-and-breakfast is just one example of the creative approaches marijuana business owners are taking to get around state laws restricting tourism options for Clark County’s budding legal marijuana scene.

This summer, state lawmakers enacted House Bill 2136, which made a number of sweeping changes to the recreational marijuana industry. Among the key provisions was a new ban on any kind of lounge or club where people can consume cannabis. The broad language disappointed many marijuana entrepreneurs, dashing their hopes of providing some kind of business where tourists can smoke.

“The industry has been a work-around forever,” Lauerman said. “They just give us new things to work around.”

Under the new law, the limitations are hazy on the prospects of running a bed-and-breakfast where marijuana can be consumed.

“As I understand it, the state law prohibiting smoking in public places would not allow a ‘marijuana-type’ B&B as it is open to the public and would presumably have employees,” said Chad Eiken, director of Vancouver’s Community and Economic Development Department. Eiken added that it is unclear whether Airbnb rentals would be considered a business or public space under the state’s ban on smoking in public places.

But Lauerman takes a cautious approach, charging $75 apiece strictly for tours of his farm, while letting visitors sleep in the greenhouse at no cost.

“I ask for a donation, but it’s basically free,” he said. “It’s just been for friends and family, but if people want to come and stay, they’re more than welcome.”

Sandwiched between a chicken coop and another greenhouse with plants the height of professional basketball players, the greenhouse makes work feel more like play, said Miller, who has stayed there several times.

“It’s really a beautiful environment,” he said. “For any guest who reserves a night here, you’re welcome like family, as well.”

Lauerman often seems to have company at the farm. Several people have set up tents in a small wooded area, and just behind the greenhouse, Lauerman has a teepee to accommodate more guests.

In addition to his greenhouse bed, Tom Lauerman maintains a tent for visitors who come to volunteer or are interested in cannabis tourism.
In addition to his greenhouse bed, Tom Lauerman maintains a tent for visitors who come to volunteer or are interested in cannabis tourism (Ariane Kunze/The Columbian).

Last week, Miller spent a few nights at the farm, as he and several others hosted federal agents from the occupational safety arm of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lauerman is helping put together a safety manual for medical marijuana workers. To Miller, hosting the federal government was a milestone for an industry that remains illegal at that level.

“For the first time, to our knowledge and their knowledge, in history, they’re here for education and more discovery and investigative-type purposes as opposed to enforcement purposes,” Miller said.

Within tight confines

Major players on the recreational market are opening their own tourism ventures in Clark County, as well, demonstrating creative ways to market within the tight confines of state law.

Main Street Marijuana is working on opening a gift shop just across the street from the store in Uptown Village.

Vancouver’s other high-grossing store, New Vansterdam, made the first appearance for a pot shop at the recent Vancouver Brewfest. The store’s presence was impossible to miss. Every glass handed out at the entrance featured New Vansterdam’s name. Signs advertising for the store adorned the fences around Esther Short Park in downtown Vancouver. And several representatives from the store’s marketing team set up a booth to greet the thousands of attendees walking by each day.

“For us, it’s all about connecting with the community,” said Shon-Lueiss Harris, New Vansterdam’s spokesman. “The people who are coming in appreciate craft beer, and they have that same palate, that same sense of ‘This is local.’ ”

A guide showing recommended pairings for beer and marijuana. New Vansterdam's marketing team put together the guide for last weekend's Vancouver Brewfest.
A guide showing recommended pairings for beer and marijuana. New Vansterdam’s marketing team put together the guide for last weekend’s Vancouver Brewfest (Justin Runquist/The Columbian).

The team designed a glossy guide showing recommended pot and beer pairings. It was a big hit with the crowd, Harris said.

Beyond aiming to boost sales, the store’s presence was an effort to bridge the cultural gap between marijuana and beer. Hops and marijuana belong to the same small family of flowering plants, known as cannabaceae.

“We’re just trying to de- stigmatize it,” Harris said. “They’re basically cousins.”

Popular Seattle-based edibles manufacturer Zoots also came to Brewfest, setting up its own booth next to New Vansterdam and showing passers-by how to make marijuana-infused drinks.

Under state law, recreational cannabis cannot be consumed in public places, nor can it be sold outside of a pot shop, so neither Zoots nor New Vansterdam sold marijuana at Brewfest. Instead, New Vansterdam hired a limo driver to give free rides back to the store, a plan that proved to be a nice shot in the arm for weekend sales, Harris said.

“We had a ton of people come in saying it was their first time and that they had never seen the store before,” Harris said.

Brewfest was big for New Vansterdam’s weekend sales, but it also was just the start of the store’s effort to have a greater presence at local events, he said. With plans for new locations opening on both sides of the Columbia River, the company’s marketing team will make an appearance at several other local events in the coming months.

- Justin Runquist