Of cannabis, camaraderie and the road to economic un-development | As I See It

Wyatt Stein

By Wyatt Stein

Special to the Journal

I am a former employee of San Juan Sun Grown, which, at this point, most readers probably know as the legal cannabis producers who have been facing the brunt of I-502 and N.I.M.B.Y-laden opposition in San Juan County.

I am writing to share my story which, due to legal restraints, has been kept dormant until now.

After working a long season doing endangered bird surveys for the Oregon Department of Forestry on the Oregon coast, I followed a job that was offered to me by a dear friend. The career in question… assistant horticulturist for a legal cannabis production facility on San Juan Island.

Needless to say I was ecstatic for this fortuitous opportunity to work in the most beautiful of settings while under the guise of a beloved friend.

Little did I know, getting the wheels of a tier-3 production facility moving is a task reserved only for the omnipotently motivated, or clinically insane. The daily hurdles that we maneuvered through kept us all fully engaged and dedicated to our mission.

Being a student of the environmental sciences and life-long botanist, the challenges that we overcame were a dream come true. However, unknown to me at the time, I would find the true value of this new chapter in my life, not only in the work I was doing, but in the love and wonderfully unique feeling that the people of Friday Harbor bestowed upon me.

Over the course of four months San Juan Sun Grown’s workforce grew from a tired four people, to a vibrant and bustling 16. Not to mention all the contractors that were hired daily to complete work that was to be inspected regularly by county code enforcers (electrical, heating, plumbing, etc.)

Fast forward now to early December.

The bird surveyor from Oregon (me) has fully settled into a beautiful, but modest, house on the outskirts of Friday Harbor. San Juan Sun Grown has now, not only established itself as a trusted and reputable producer of legal cannabis in Washington, but the workforce who started it has developed into a family.

We helped each other when it was needed, we kept each other company when times got lonely.

I had just started getting the resources available to launch a small-scale tool-making and blade-smithing business out of my garage, something I’ve always loved as a hobby but was fully considering as a business and contribution to the community of artists on San Juan Island. This, of course, was all before I got the letter.

In an instant all that we had worked for was gone. All packaged up neatly in a formal business letter. Everybody laid off. No more jobs, end of story. The reason? Sued by neighbors over a road easement dispute.

The revenue we generated was not enough to keep up with the attorneys’ fees associated with the lawsuits dealt to us by our neighbors.

I feel like all the good people of Friday Harbor that welcomed me into their world deserve an explanation as to why 16 residents and contributors to the local economy are now jobless and/or displaced.

It saddens me to write this but I have since moved on; San Juan Island and the people of Friday Harbor will always be in my heart. Thank you to everyone that accepted me, I sincerely wish I was still among you.

— Editor’s note: Wyatt Stein, a graduate of Portland State University, with a degree in environmental studies, lives now in Vietnam, and hopes to land a job there teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City.