Washington medical Green with envy as Colorado moves to retail

Shy Sadis is the owner and founder of The Joint, one of Seattle’s first and most comprehensive medical marijuana outfits. He’s been in the business four years and owns five stores. He’s looking to expand to California, Nevada, Colorado and — of course — into the recreational market slated to open late this spring in Washington. That last one might be the trickiest.

“It’s just so much bullshit that people like me, who are pioneers in the industry, have to go through a lottery whereas in Colorado they gave priority to medical,” he said the day after his fellow Colorado pioneers sold their first grams for sport. Sadis has invested some $45,000 dollars in down payments on potential properties to sell weed in and around Seattle. He says he’s literally just waiting on the coveted licenses to come through and the more, the better, because those properties are hot and the down payments non refundable.

“There’ve been turf wars all over Washington,” he said, adding that in some cases as many as four other people have sketchily put in retail applications on properties he holds the lease for.

Attorney Hilary Bricken of the Canna Law Group in Seattle, which advises clients in both the medical and emergent retail markets,  agreed there’s been something of a green rush in the state. Even so, due to differences in the law, starting up a little mom and pop weed shop may be much easier Washington than in Colorado.

Although Washington’s Initiative 25 puts a steely cap on the location and number of recreational shops based on adult consumption capacity and zoning that gives a 1000 foot berth to schools and many public facilities like recreation (the activity kind) centers, virtually anyone can open one.

“In our state there’s no favoring at all of the medical industry,” Bricken said. “Anyone can try for a licenses. We’ve had people move in from out of state, even out of country.”

Thousands of pot rookies and veterans alike are all waiting on one thing, the issue of exactly 334 retail licenses. According to Mikahail Carpenter of the Liquor Control Board that issuing is slated for late February to early March. After that, it’s up to a fledgling industry in high gear to get production up and running. Carpenter says early June is a good estimate.

Even fully operational, Washington’s weed marketplace won’t look exactly like Colorado’s said Dr. Mark Kleiman, the CEO of BOTEC, a drug policy think tank in Cambridge, MA, that advised Washington’s liquor control board on implementing the initiative.

“The taxes in Washington are higher at 25 percent. Colorado has permission for general adult home grown home grow, while in Washington only medical users can grow at home,” Kleinman said. “Also in Washington no grower can have a financial interest in retail. It’s just the way the law was written.”

In fact, come February grow and or produce licenses will be thick on the ground. Carpenter said virtually anyone who qualifies can generate weed, it’s the selling that’s a free-for-all. Even then, many retailer-hopefuls, like Angel Swanson of The Cannabis Emporium in Pierce County outside Tacoma, aren’t too worried. It may be that chaos over retail licenses is mostly a big-city (read: Seattle) problem.

“I’ll be curious if we even end up with a lottery out here,” said Swanson, adding that she’s thrilled by images of the long lines outside recreational shops in Colorado. “We opened our second medical shop specifically to go 502 and every day we’re open… we have one two people coming in to ask about when we’ll open for recreational.”

Not all medical pioneers are as eager to forge into recreational as Swanson and Sadis. Derek Pacult, the manager of Alternative Care North West near Olympia doesn’t care at all about getting a recreational license, he’s more concerned that I502 means a war on medical. Industry regulators have said the state’s move to recreational affords opportunities to address the medical industry, which is now considered virtually a ‘grey market.’

“[Recreational] is probably the worst thing that could happen, since they’re looking at taking away all home gardens and all concentrates,” Pacult said. “They’re even talking about taking away Simpson Oil — which is what cures cancer.”

Pacult’s not optimistic about Washington’s move towards highly taxed recreational.

“Retail will fall flat on it’s face, I hope,” he said. “The quality will go down, prices will go up and everything will be driven back underground.”

Bricken doesn’t think so and says her firm has advised clients of the importance of a customer’s comfort.

“People will pay for the safety, the sense of legality,” she said. “That’s going to help inform demand.”

Sadis agreed, saying that although it may take the new market a few months to catch up with buyers, he expects retail prices to level out around $10-12 a gram. And he’ll be selling, come hell or spilled bong water.

“Yes I think Washington is cutting themselves in the throat right off the bat by having these rookies come in and try to run stores with a 25 percent tax,” he said. “The state dropped the ball and I’m upset. But if i don’t get 1-2 licenses, I’m fully prepared to buy one. You will see a store from me.”

[Photo by Chas Redmond]