Future of Wash., Colo. pot farming still uncertain
BY SHANNON DININNY
Sunday, January 20, 2013
1/20/13 at 7:21 AM
YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) - Irrigation canals line Washington's Yakima Valley east of the Cascade Range, transforming a desert landscape into one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world - including crops for some of America's biggest vices.
Thousands of acres of wine grapes dot the landscape, contributing to Washington's No. 2 rank for premium wine production behind California. Farmers grow more than two-thirds of U.S. hops for big beer companies and craft brewers alike, and a large tobacco field is flourishing.
Now that Washington voters have legalized marijuana, will the region become known as the vice belt? Not necessarily.
Too many questions remain about the new law, from how the state will regulate it to whether entrepreneurs or large corporations should lead the way. And the biggest question mark: the federal government's role going forward.
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Many states have approved it for medical use, but only Washington and Colorado have legalized it for recreational use.
The Justice Department has not said whether it will try to block the two states from implementing their new laws, passed late last year. For that reason, key land-grant universities that typically aid the agriculture industry by researching such things as pest control and crop yields - but rely on federal funding to do so - are avoiding the marijuana industry altogether.
In addition, marijuana is a crop that can't be insured, and federal drug law bars banks from knowingly serving the industry.
Those factors make farmers leery of planting marijuana in the near term, said Bob Young, chief economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation.
"At this stage of the game, it poses tremendous problems for growers," he said. "Quite frankly, I'd tell one of our members to approach this with great caution."
Original Print Headline: Out west, pot farming's future still uncertain