Jeremy Moberg has gone from illegal grower to tax-paying multi-million dollar businessman in Washington state. Lucy Rock catches up with him between meetings
Jeremy Moberg peers into a microscope at a leaf in a Petri dish. Thrips, he declares to a man wearing a facemask and surgical gloves. Well get rid of those with neem oil. Moberg spotted the pest while cloning in his greenhouse. Hes not your run-of-the-mill biologist or horticulturalist. The 41-year-old owns a marijuana farm with a multi-million dollar turnover in Washington state, USA, where the drug was legalised for recreational use in 2012. His expertise comes from two decades of growing illegally, deep in the woods, dodging the helicopter raids of drug-enforcement officers.
The smell of marijuana hangs heavy and pungent in the processing centre, where half a dozen people are clipping flower buds. Youre trimming too closely, he calls to one man working on his cheapest product as he walks to the boardroom. Leave it shaggier and go faster. Life is good for Moberg. Hes generated more than $3m in the 20 months since he started the business. However, he says a glut on the market has depressed prices this year, taxes are high and profits are invested back into the farm, so his personal pay cheque is modest. Still, he owns a couple of houses and enjoys eating out, skiing and fishing.
As Moberg says, he is a product of circumstance, the right person at the right time. Four years ago he was on his uppers. He had taken a job as a fisheries ecologist, using his environmental science degree, and stopped growing weed to go straight while involved in a custody battle for his daughter, now 10. Then he was laid off and his life unravelled. With no crop in production, he sold wood to make ends meet, borrowed money from his mother and relied on friends for food. He nearly lost his house and had a difficult break-up with a girlfriend, which led to him being arrested for taking his rucksack out of her car. He was arrested again for stealing a Sim card tray from a shop so he could use his mobile for a job interview. Both charges were later dismissed.
Thats important because people with marijuana convictions are often barred from working in the industry. This has meant Black Americans, who were disproportionately targeted in the war on drugs, are thought to be missing out on the opportunities created by legalisation.
Now Moberg runs a legitimate business, producing and processing 900kg of marijuana a year that he sells to pot shops springing up across the state. And its about to become a family affair. His mother, a retired teacher, and his brother, a lawyer, are going into production, too, each having taken leases on farms neighbouring Mobergs.
It felt so good when the vote passed to legalise, Moberg says. We drank and sat in the hot tub in the snow. We totally partied. The next morning my pipe, my beer, my weed were still there. I remembered saying: This is going to be huge.