Veterans become pot farmers in Rochester

ROCHESTER — A large-scale marijuana production operation is growing in south Thurston County.

A group of six Rochester-area veterans formed American Cannabis Corp. to grow medical marijuana for dispensaries across Western Washington.

“Vets were smoking weed before the hippies even knew what it was,” said co-owner Dennis Klamn, an Army and Navy veteran who has been growing pot for the last decade.

The 44-year-old said he became a medical marijuana patient in 2003 and started growing to make the cost of his medication more affordable.

“Marijuana is the best PTSD medicine I have ever encountered,” Klamn said, noting that he has had flashbacks from being injured while serving in combat.

As a grower, Klamn said, he started getting to know other veterans who were using marijuana for post traumatic stress disorder, problems related to exposure to Agent Orange and other conditions.

Klamn then joined American Cannabis Corp., which now boasts six farms, growing 18 varieties of marijuana for dispensaries around the region including locations in Grand Mound, Tacoma and Seattle.

The distinct, skunky odor of marijuana fills Klamn’s indoor grow area, which consists of three rooms with about a dozen plants each, all in various stages of the four-month growth cycle.

Klamn said he harvests the site once a month, yielding up to about four pounds of pot each time.

Under state law, each of the organization’s six grow sites can have up to 45 plants, which each typically yield about a half a pound of useable marijuana a year.

Klamn said he distributes about two to four ounces to each of the six patients he provides for monthly.

The excess is donated to dispensaries, which in turn give money back to the producer for growing expenses.

“Technically, there’s no selling, though the state of Washington has decided it wants the sales tax,” Klamn said, adding that he usually receives at least $2,000 a pound.

Klamn said he is setting aside about 10 cents out of every dollar to pay taxes, in addition to other fees, because it helps legitimize the business, which operates in a legal gray area as the drug remains illegal under federal law.

“It’s a real catch 22,” he said. “We don’t want the police coming in raiding us. We’re normal people living normal lives.”

Running a business focused on marijuana hasn’t come without problems.

Klamn was robbed at gunpoint two years ago coming from The Cannabis Farmers Market in Tacoma, which was the first-ever legal farmers market for the drug when it opened in 2010.

Another time, thieves broke into Klamn’s grow site and stole his plants. Often, Klamn said, growers are reluctant to report such activities to authorities.

“We’re trying to work within a jumble of rules that aren’t actually laws,” he said.

Aside from operating a business with conflicting state and federal regulations, the farming of marijuana demands labor intensive, tedious work and constant care. Each site must have expensive lights surrounded by reflective white walls, temperature and humidity controls, as well as organic pesticides and herbicides.

“Each farmer has their own signature strain,” Klamn said, noting his is called AK-47.

The operation produces several well-known marijuana strains such as White Widow, Train Wreck, Girl Scout Cookie and Blue Dream, which sell in dispensaries for $8 to $15 a gram.

The group’s oldest member, a 62-year-old Vietnam veteran, brought one of the organization’s signature strains known as #7 back from the war and has been growing it since 1972, according to Klamn.

In addition to smokable marijuana, Klamn produces kief by sifting the tiny crystals on the dry cannabis buds through a screen. The end product has a higher concentration of psychoactive ingredients such as THC and can be pressed into cakes and used as hashish or smoked in its powder form. Kief sells from $15 to $20 a gram.

Klamn also produces a type of cannabis oil developed by Rick Simpson to treat skin cancer and other medical conditions in 2003. The potent oil, derived from dry herb, is a fast-growing trend in the medical marijuana industry, selling for $20 to $65 a gram.

“A lot of people say bull— but some people think it can cure anything,” Klamn said.

Christie Klamn said she uses her husband’s products for headaches and to relieve eye pressure.

“I refuse to take drugs because the side effects are astronomical, plus I don’t want to get hooked,” she said, noting marijuana seems to help her more than regular prescription drugs.

Fifteen years after Washington voters approved medical marijuana, the couple are anxiously awaiting the state’s implementation of Initiative 502, which decriminalizes the use of recreational marijuana, to see how it will affect their medicinal grow operation. Klamn said he hopes decriminalization in Washington and Colorado will move the federal government in the direction of legalizing the drug that he has personally seen help so many.

“It’s becoming part of our culture,” Klamn said. “It’s not just a hippie, beatnik thing anymore.”