Film

Oberfelder’s Cannabis Farm

The good, the bad and the happy

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Much like most people who voted to make Washington one of the first states to legalize marijuana, I assume that most of those involved in the cultivation and sale of legal weed are doing just fine, if not better than that. Judging by the proliferation of pot shops, the many strains of quality product that can be found within and statistical data that says marijuana and its attendant business sectors comprise one of the fastest-growing industries in the state, you don’t have to be high to think that cultivating cannabis is the only way to farm.

But increasingly, marijuana farmers, particularly those that grow outdoors, are forced to contend with a regulatory mess that is the harshest of tokes, and it all has to do with the fact that despite cannabis being farmed for consumption, it’s not classified by the state as an agricultural crop. The lack of ag designation means the farms aren’t offered the same protections afforded by the Right to Farm Act and other laws, and can be subject to adverse zoning decisions and, more ominously, they can be found to be in violation of the Clean Air Act and fined out of existence.

Basically, if someone can smell the cannabis, a farm can be on the wrong side of the law, and as anyone who has ever tried to hide their stash from their parents knows, it’s not easy to mitigate weed’s distinctive scent.

The harm that can be done to farms due to what sounds a bit like a boring paperwork problem is currently playing out east of the Cascades, where Chelan County is using the legal loophole to try and shut down outdoor marijuana cultivation in a region of the state perfectly suited to such farms. If that isn’t bad enough, the county is taking this action after assuring the owners of almost 40 farms at the outset of legalization that the money they paid and the arduous process they underwent to start or convert existing farms to cannabis would ensure they’d be grandfathered in as the rules and regulations concerning legal weed evolved.

However, there is some potential relief in sight, in the form of House Bill HR 1692, which would reclassify marijuana as an agricultural crop, as well as a new documentary about the subject by local filmmaker Bob Ridgley called Oberfelder’s Cannabis Farm: The Good, the Bad and the Happy.

When Ridgley, who is the longtime owner and operator of Bellingham’s Binary Recording Studio and is known to almost all of us as “Binary Bob,” set out to make his movie, he had no idea that what he thought would be a behind-the-scenes glimpse of a nascent and little-known industry would put him square in the thick of a political and regulatory quandary.

“I decided to make this film to let people know what is really going on behind the closed doors of cannabis farming, doors that are not open to the public,” he says. “Most people just see the end result—cannabis stores—or, they have read something in the media but, there is much more going on. The Liquor Cannabis Control Board is still learning—sometimes at the expense of the farmers.”

Ridgley, with six films to his credit, says documentary filmmaking’s “biggest challenge is to find the human interest story; without it, it’s just a technical film.” With that in mind, he trained his lens on the Oberfelder family, who operate a 16-acre cannabis farm in Chelan County that specializes in outdoor cultivation using organic methods, and do so with their commitment to community and sense of humor firmly intact. The Oberfelders have also been outspoken advocates in the fight to keep the county from saying, “We smelt it, you dealt it” and putting them out of business.

“What surprised me most about this story was how much bias there still is on legal cannabis,” Ridgley says. “Alcohol probation lasted for 13 years. Cannabis probation almost 90. Its going to take some time—it’s still considered the ‘devil’s lettuce’ to many.”

Of course, if it were actual lettuce, the Oberfelders and their cannabis-cultivating compatriots would be in the clear.

When Oberfelder’s Cannabis Farm screens at the Pickford Film Center at 5pm Sun., June 10, Ridgley will be on hand to provide information and answer questions, as will Danielle Rosellison, Whatcom County resident, Cannabis Alliance representative, and one of the authors of HR 1692.

Ridgley says his goals with this screening and others are twofold. “I hope the audience leaves with an educated understanding of legal cannabis—with a smile on their face.” And dovetailing neatly with that objective, “My goal is to educate and help House Bill HR 1692 pass. I want to save these farmers from bankruptcy. Also to help other states that are starting to legalize.”

Ridgley’s aims are altruistic, but he’s also eager to see the culmination of a couple of years of his life flicker across the big screen in front of a live audience.

“After mass hours, long days, lots of travel, not knowing if my idea is going to work, or if anybody is even interested, hoping that you will get that interview, that the camera and audio equipment is working—it is amazing when the film comes together,” Ridgley says. “For me, documentary films are about making people think about something they had no plan of thinking about.”

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