Annalise Olson says she still remembers the days when her dad grounded her for smoking weed as a teenager. When she would come back home from hanging out with her high-school friends, Olson says her dad was paranoid that they spent their nights smoking.
Needless to say, she was surprised when her father, Mark Olson, 63, sheepishly told her that he and her stepmom, Leslie Olson, 47, both straitlaced family law attorneys, had launched a small cannabis grow on their family farm while Annalise was working as an illustrator on the East Coast.
"My dad originally did it in secret. He made the decision to build the farm while I was in New York. He basically called me up and said, 'Hey, I'm doing this,'" she says, laughing.
Today, Annalise, 26, works as the production manager for Quincy Green, her family's cannabis grow in Eastern Washington. When they're not running their law practice, Mark oversees farm operations and Leslie manages the company finances. (The Olson's youngest daughter, Corinne, has expressed interest in eventually helping with product design, but at 17, she's not yet old enough to work for the family business, per Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board rules.)
Before launching the business in September 2015, the family spent a year in what Leslie calls "the University of Pot," schooling themselves in all the legal ins and outs of cannabusiness.
"There's nothing more exciting than starting something that's brand-new," says Leslie. "When you talk about start-ups, what's more start-up than cannabis? You can't know everything."
Mark saw the recreational cannabis market was booming, but he had other reasons to join the business. Growing up in the 1960s, he would smoke weed with his college buddies, flouting then-president Richard Nixon's war on drugs, a set of deeply racist laws that classified cannabis as a Schedule I substance.
"It always rankled me that an oppressive law really [demonized] a product that's good for the world. I got excited about using the farm for that reason," he says. "We're growing plants, but it's not corn, potatoes, or carrots. Cannabis is beautiful and it's a highly technical plant. Whoever's growing it really needs to know what they're doing."
Mark's family has been farming in Eastern Washington for the past century. When his mother passed away in 2005, he inherited the family farm in Quincy, a small town that sits in the center of the Columbia Basin.
The majority of their farmland is rented out to a conventional farmer growing market-ready produce, so the Olsons converted a small corner of the property into a small, sustainable cannabis grow.
Rather than using hundreds of electricity-eating LED lights like many other growers, the Olsons committed to raising their plants using only natural sunlight. To do this, they installed a computerized, climate-controlled greenhouse, which shelters 22 strains of organically grown cannabis. Mark says the admittedly costly project fit right in in Quincy—"where agriculture meets tech"—which is also home to Microsoft's and Google's computer server farms.
"When you do the numbers on electricity, it doesn't pencil out," Mark says. "Using the power of the sun, you're not contributing to greenhouse gases."
Quincy Green has other reasons for ditching electricity, too.
"If you want a tomato that has real flavor to it, it's a sun-grown tomato. With cannabis, it's [the same]. The sun is going to turn out the best product," says Mark. "Grown under electric lights, you might have the look people are going for, but I'm not sure you're getting the best product."
The Olsons maintain a high level of commitment to eco-friendliness in all areas of their business. Take Quincy Green's 100 percent compostable packaging as an example: It's more expensive to produce than the industry's standard Mylar wrapping—about 50 cents per package as opposed to 10 cents per package. But "stubbornness" and a dedication to sustainable practices are core company values, says Leslie. "Why would you take this beautiful plant and then destroy the planet to make [the packaging]?" she says.
The beauty of cannabis is a theme with the Olsons, and Quincy Green's family mind-set threads directly into how they see their plants. The small staff gingerly weeds, trims, and sprays each one with neem oil, a natural pesticide, treating the plants like individual people, Leslie explains. "Every plant we grow has her own personality."