Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Is It Better To Grow Marijuana Indoors Or Out?

Joe Barrentine
The News Tribune
Judy Bodily waters freshly planted pot plants at Black Dog Acres outside of Goldendale, Washington.

As legal pot growing operations spring to life from urban King County to remote corners of Washington state, an ongoing debate has developed within this new farming community: Should marijuana be grown indoors or out?

'As Nature Intended'

For Toni Reita, there is no debate. The diminutive woman with flowing white hair has been a naturalist, an herbalist and a log-home builder. Now, she's a full-on pot farmer.

Credit Joe Barrentine / The News Tribune
The News Tribune
Toni Reita of Black Dog Acres in Goldendale, Washington waters her starts.

"It’s all going to happen as nature intended,” Reita said. “Those warehouses are beautiful, and those state-of-the-art buildings and all the light spectrum … but it doesn’t matter what you pay for it; you’re not going to beat this," she said, "this" being the natural sunlight, wind and organic mulch.

Reita says growing pot outdoors makes economic sense, too.

“Under ideal circumstances, one crop annually will outperform four crops indoors," she said.

Reita’s fenced-in pot grow, Black Dog Acres, is in a remote spot, past Goldendale, where narrow roads narrow even further before turning to gravel.

'A Win-Win Situation For Us'

About 40 miles away in the Columbia Gorge, Susy Wilson is also planning to produce a significant chunk of her pot outdoors.

Credit Joe Barrentine / The News Tribune
The News Tribune
Susy Wilson of WOW Weed in Dallesport, Washington says she plans to grow pot indoors and out.

Wilson has a warm, Mother-Earth vibe with her tie-dye shirt and white, wispy mohawk. She says she passes the long work hours by talking to her pot plants, which she calls her “ladies.”

So far, most of her plants are indoors, but she has big plans for her garden plot out back, and she has nestled tiny plants there in mulch and sand.

Wilson says Dallesport, right off the Columbia River, is a microclimate — the “Mediterranean of the Gorge.” It’s sunny, warm and windy, and she says that’s a good thing.

“The wind stops bugs,” Wilson said. “Bugs can’t hang on very well in this kind of wind, so that’s kind of a win-win situation for us.” ?

She adds outdoor plants are just healthier and require fewer chemicals for pests or molds.

Consistent And Controlled

Still, the majority of the 120 licensed marijuana grows in the state are opting for all-indoor grows. Eric Cooper owns one of them, a warehouse operation called Monkey Grass just outside of Wenatchee, Washington.

Credit Joe Barrentine / The News Tribune
The News Tribune
So far, most licensed farmers plan to grow their pot indoors.

Cooper believes a controlled environment is crucial for his business to make money. For example, with an indoor grow, he says there’s never any downtime like winter.

“We will crop approximately 150 to 200 plants every seven days,” Cooper said. “So that’s 52 crops a year.”

He says in a warehouse, he can control the dark and the light the plants get, so they mature the buds properly. But keeping these lights cycling is expensive. That’s even with eastern Washington’s cheaper hydroelectric energy.

Sunlight, of course, is free. Cooper is hoping that at some point soon, the state will issue more licenses and he’ll be able operate an outdoor grow, too.

“When we go outdoor, our crop size is going to increase dramatically,” he said.

If nature cooperates, outdoor grows can yield more pot. But will customers like it as much?

Tim Thompson, one of the owners of the Altitude pot store in Prosser, Washington, says the shop's customers haven’t had access to outdoor weed yet. But in terms of which they will prefer between outdoor or indoor, he said, “I really don’t think there’s going to be a difference.”

Thompson says he thinks it will come down to price. That theory will be tested in just a few weeks when farmers like Wilson and Reita bring their outdoor pot to market.


This project is a collaboration with Jordan Schrader of The News Tribune in Tacoma. Read his companion piece to this story. For more photos, see our slideshow on Flickr.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.