Finally, Raymond is famous.
The Port of Willapa Harbor has likely become the first government body in the state to ink a lease with a cannabis entrepreneur.
According to Raymond officials, Marcus Charles, known for his work with Seattle’s Crocodile Cafe, has agreed to lease three buildings – with an option for 16 acres – on the site of an abandoned lumber mill at the port.
For leaders in this Pacific County town, Charles’ vision means jobs.
The operation could become the city’s second largest private employer after Weyerhaeuser.
“That’s one thing that sounds positive, jobs,” said Raymond Mayor Bob Jungar on Tuesday. “In a town of about 3,000 people, 30 or 40 jobs is a big jump. It would mean a few more people in the community, and more people spending money.”
Port Manager Rebecca Chaffee said Tuesday that hosting a major marijuana growing enterprise was not part of the area’s comprehensive economic growth plan.
“This was not high on our radar, that this was a business we wanted to have,” she said.
But she recognized the opportunity “once we were confronted by a viable business deal.”
The site, located between the Willapa River and the South Fork of the Willapa River, also hosts “an old log yard that hasn’t been used as a log yard since 1980, and a tiny residential area, three houses,” Chaffee said.
“Marcus had looked at another old mill site, and the deal fell through,” she said. “He knows a lobbyist in Olympia who was talking to one of our elected officials who said he should look at the mill site in Raymond.”
She and her commissioners were impressed, she said, by Charles’ detailed plans.
“He met with commissioners, city officials, county officials,” she said. “He’s talking about having a bar code on every seed. He’s talking about having cameras on every plant, about patching the cameras to the Liquor Control Board. The area will be fenced. There will be security. He has no intentions of setting up shop and selling marijuana to local teenagers.”
“We entered into a standard lease agreement. That’s what we do,” she continued. “Five years ago this would have been an illegal underground activity. People have decided they don’t want it illegal any more in this state. He just answered our questions, and we felt it might be a good fit for us.”
The lease is for $4,800 a month, paid to the port.
The deal is conditional on the Liquor Control Board laws and regulations – as yet unwritten – that will guide the state and the nascent businesses it breeds as cannabis products are grown, processed and go on sale.
“He is positioning himself to submit an application for a license if the Justice Department allows the state to go forward,” Chaffee said.
Mikhail Carpenter, spokesman for the board, said Tuesday of the Willapa deal: “We don’t have a position on it. Until the producer rules are written, we can’t know how or if this particular operation will fit or not. They’re banking on a system that doesn’t exist yet.”
“There’s not much in Raymond,” said Mayor Jungar. “We have some metal statues along the highway through town, and we have a big Weyerhaeuser mill. South Bend, down the road, has a big oyster production plant.”
“We are breaking ground,” he said. “Now the world, the country, the state knows where we are.”
Said Chaffee, “I feel like I’m in the eye of the storm.”
C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535