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Island Marijuana Farmers Face Legal Question When Shipping To Mainland

By Andy Mannix, Seattle Times

SEATTLE — Scott Durkee is ready to grow some weed.

As soon as the state of Washington gives the OK, he and his business partners at Buds of Vashon plan to grow up to 2,000 square feet of plants, which could produce up to 100 pounds of marijuana a year.

But selling it off the island could be risky.

Since no roads connect Vashon to the mainland, marijuana growers will have to move their product by air or sea — both regulated by federal agencies, which still consider marijuana to be illegal.

In other words, there may be no legal way for a state-approved marijuana producer to move product across the Puget Sound.

For Durkee and the 13 other growers seeking licenses on Vashon — some of whom have already invested thousands of dollars into their businesses — this poses a complication, especially given there’s only three retail shops planned for the island.

“We’re not going to sell it all on Vashon,” said Durkee, an island resident. “We’re stoners, but we’re not that much of stoners.”

But just because transportation is illegal doesn’t mean the producers won’t still do it. State and federal agencies cited vague policies, and it’s unclear how — or if — rules will be enforced.

Given how the federal government has so far taken a hands-off approach to Washington’s marijuana industry, several hopeful growers said they’re operating on faith that, while it may technically be illegal, transporting pot through federal space won’t be an issue.

“My plan is to comply with all of the (state Liquor Control Board’s) regulations,” said Durkee. “I’m just going to drive on the (ferry) boat as if I’m going to the Mariners game. And I don’t care about the Coast Guard and I don’t care about the federals, and I don’t think they care about it either. They have bigger fish to fry.”

Vashon Island could be a pot-grower’s utopia.

At 37 square miles, it’s larger than Manhattan, but with less than 1 percent of the population. This isolated, rural farming locale — combined with high voter approval of legalized marijuana — makes the island attractive real estate for outdoor growers. Modern Farmer dubbed Vashon “Weed Island” last year.

“Vashon is an ideal place for growing marijuana,” said Shango Los, founder of the Vashon Island Marijuana Entrepreneurs Alliance. “Not only do we have a supportive agricultural community, but our island has a long history of producing prohibition-era marijuana, so the skill sets are already here.”

Licenses are pending for 14 producers, eight processors and three retailers on the island, according to the Washington State Liquor Control Board.

Vashon is not the only location inaccessible by road where entrepreneurs hope to get in on Washington’s burgeoning marijuana industry. Proprietors also are seeking licenses on Lummi Island and the San Juan Islands.

State approval also is pending for a location at Point Roberts, where someone delivering weed would have to drive through Canada to reach the rest of Washington by road, a route that would present its own legal problems.

The state Liquor Control Board, the agency in charge of licensing marijuana producers, processors, and retailers, expected the ferries would be OK for the industry’s use.

“I think they consider the ferries part of the state highway system, so you’d be transporting that just like you’d be transporting it on the road,” said board spokesman Brian Smith.

But the ferry system still doesn’t approve of marijuana on its vessels, even if the business is complying with state rules, said Marta Coursey, spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation, which operates the ferry.

Because the U.S. Coast Guard regulates the ferries, federal law supersedes state law, Coursey said.

“Citizens may not transport marijuana on our ferry system,” she said. If someone is caught transporting pot on the ferry, the policy is to turn the offender over to the Coast Guard.

Coursey said there is no plan to increase enforcement with new marijuana growers on the islands.

It’s unclear if a business could transport product on a personal boat while complying with the state’s guidelines.

Smith wrote in an email that the regulations are “focused on typical methods for transporting commercial products to market such as roads and highway systems.” He didn’t respond to follow-up questions.

It’s also unclear what would happen if someone was caught on a ferry or other boat with a delivery of legal pot.

In the case of small personal-use amounts of marijuana, the Coast Guard has a policy to seize the weed and turn the case over to local police. But if it’s a larger shipment from a legal business, the incident would be handled on a “case-by-case basis,” said Coast Guard spokeswoman Sara Mooers.

Mooers refused to say what would lead to federal legal action or what factors would make one case different from the next.

“We don’t have a hard-and-fast matrix that would say, ‘Well, if it’s this much, it’s this vessel and it’s this route, we’re going to do X, Y, and Z,’?” she said. “It’s just not that cut and dry.”

A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration gave an almost identical response, saying only that it would handle air trafficking on a “case-by-case basis.” Federal law says a pilot’s license could be revoked for transporting a federally controlled substance.

Medical-marijuana producers have been using the ferries for years.

“I know personally people who take marijuana off the island and bring it on the island, and of course the only way to do that is by ferry,” said Vashon grower Kat Sharp. “I know that none of them have ever been stopped or harassed or bothered whatsoever.”

AFP Photo/Desiree Martin

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Washington Pot Shops Facing Dilemma: High Demand, Low Supply

By Andy Mannix, The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — Hopeful marijuana buyers started lining up outside Freedom Market in Kelso around noon Tuesday, the time the shop planned its grand opening. But by late evening, not a single gram had been sold.

Freedom Market still had no weed.

The 1 1/2 pound shipment finally rolled in about 9 p.m., and employees scrambled to get the product counted and ready to sell to the line of customers by 9:20 p.m. They sold almost a pound by midnight, and by Wednesday afternoon were nearly sold out completely, employees said.

About a pound is expected to arrive Thursday morning, but with such high demand, it likely won’t last long. The store might not have enough weed to keep regular hours for a while, said owner Kathy Nelson.

“We’ll just have to roll with it until it levels out,” she said.

It’s a dilemma retail pot shops around the state are facing this week. Twenty-five shops have now passed final inspections and received licenses — and only a handful have opened — but so far the demand for legal marijuana far outweighs supply.

Many of Washington’s pot proprietors simply can’t find the product to keep their shelves stocked. As a result, several shops fear they will lose potential profits to temporary closures or shorter hours due to lack of inventory.

“No matter how you cut it, there’s just not enough product to go around to all the stores opening,” said Chad Champagne, owner of 420 Carpenter in Lacey. “If I could get 1,000 pounds I would get it.”

Champagne will open his shop at noon Friday. He’s expecting one shipment Thursday night, but hasn’t been able to secure a second.

He wouldn’t say exactly how much he’ll have on hand for the shop’s opener, but anticipated it won’t last long.

“I have enough to last me through the weekend, and that’s probably about it,” he said.

Top Shelf Cannabis in Bellingham opened with the most product in stock Tuesday — more than 20 pounds from three separate processors — and even it is in jeopardy of running out, said manager Sigrid Williams.

Top Shelf had about 7 to 8 pounds left Wednesday afternoon, said employees. They’re getting an order of pre-rolled joints and blunts this week. They hope to secure a few more pounds this week, but at this point don’t have another shipment due for two weeks.

With a constant stream of people wanting to be among the first to buy legal retail pot in Washington, the supply has been going quickly.

Williams said they’re discussing temporarily shortening hours to make the product last longer. They hope to keep the store stocked, but it’s possible they could run out.

“Who knows,” said Williams. “We might stumble upon a miracle where some other grower or processor offers us more.”

Other shops have passed final inspection and received their licenses, but haven’t been able to open due to the weed deficit.

Among those in limbo is Westside 420 Recreational in Longview. The store plans to open July 18, but has so far been unable to secure a supplier.

Owner Sally Sexton said that with such few licensed suppliers equipped with a limited amount of product, prices are rising by the hour.

If she bought at current prices, Sexton said, she’d have to charge $40 a gram to turn a profit. Instead, she’s trying to wait out the initial surge in demand, hoping sell a gram for $25.

“I’m getting calls and complaints and people begging me to open,” Sexton said. “But your customer who just wants to do it as a novelty is not the same customer you’re going to see every day.”

Satori/Instant Karma in Spokane might wait until September to open to secure a dependable, long-term supplier. Owner Justin Wilson said he’s in talks with six suppliers and has been quoted prices as high as $5,000 per pound. He wants to buy 4 to 5 pounds to start, and eventually keep up to 50 pounds in stock.

“It’s OK,” Wilson said. “I’ve waited 20 years for this.”

The marijuana deficit should come as no surprise to pot retailers, said Greg Stewart, CEO of Nine Point Growth Industries, one of the state’s licensed growers.

The first producers didn’t begin receiving licenses until spring, so many haven’t had time to harvest much pot.

Stewart has already distributed the majority of his initial 30 pounds to four different shops. He’s shipping the last 7 pounds to New Vansterdam in Vancouver, which plans to open Friday.

After that, Nine Point will go dry until July 25, when it will have another 30 pounds ready to go.

Stewart said he’s fielded up to 10 calls a day from retailers looking for product, and he’s had to turn them down, leading to an inevitable conclusion: “Everybody kind of knows that we’re going to run out,” he said.

Joe Edwards, owner of producer Root Down, said he also received several calls over the weekend from retailers. However, Root Down just received its license two weeks ago, and its supply won’t be ready for another two months.

But the drought won’t last forever.

As of Wednesday, 93 producers and processors were licensed in Washington, according to the Liquor Control Board. An additional 21 will be licensed pending payment of fees, and 166 await final inspection.

As more producers continue to open — and those already in business have time to harvest — more product will be available.

Producers and shop owners anticipate the market will balance out around mid-August.

AuricAG master grower Steve Elliott said his company’s fastest growing strain is about two weeks from packaging. That harvest should yield 5 to 10 pounds. A week or two later, the rest of its first crop should be ready, with 25 more pounds at least, and maybe a good bit more.

AFP Photo / Frederic J Brown

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Seattle’s First Pot Shop Poised To Open Tuesday

By Andy Mannix, The Seattle Times

A week before the grand opening of Cannabis City, James Lathrop paces by the conspicuously bare glass display cases in his small shop, tucked away just south of downtown Seattle.

Barring some 11th-hour business catastrophe, 10 pounds of marijuana will line these shelves Tuesday, a quantity Lathrop expects will sell out that day at $15 to $20 per gram. But until he officially receives his retail license from the state Monday, it’s only glass paraphernalia and small label plates that read “Fine Jewelry,” remnants from when the cases lived in a Sears department store.

One of the many nice things about the burgeoning legal marijuana business, Lathrop jokes, is he can be forthright about the intended use of these handcrafted glass pipes, some of which stand several feet high.

“These are not tobacco pipes,” he says, laughing. “We should get a sign that says that.”

On Tuesday, Lathrop plans to open the doors to Cannabis City and become the first marijuana retailer in Seattle. For Lathrop and other pioneers of Washington’s newly legalized pot industry, cutting the ribbon marks the culmination of months of grueling preparation. Until last week, he and his business manager, Amber McGowan, worked as many as 16 hours a day to prepare the business for its first customers, as well as a two-hour state inspection, which they passed last week, he said.

“We were still doing construction the day of our inspection,” he said. “This window got replaced an hour before he got here.”

Meanwhile, Cannabis City’s supplier, Nine Point Growth Industries in Bremerton, is hustling to get 30 pounds of marijuana ready to go out the door for Lathrop and several other retailers around the state also expecting to open next week.

Customers are allowed under the law to buy up to an ounce at a time. But because the demand is likely to be so high the first day, Nine Point has been working around the clock since Monday measuring all 30 pounds into 2-gram bags so more buyers will have a chance to partake in the historic day, said Greg Stewart, CEO of Nine Point.

“That is all that I had available,” he said. “I could literally sell as much as I had right now. If I had 10 times as much I’d be able to sell it.”

Road to Cannabis City

For Lathrop, being among the first to navigate Washington’s new marijuana laws was daunting from the beginning.

Before he could even be eligible for the licensing lottery, he had to secure a location. Marijuana retailers can’t be within 1,000 feet of a school, playground, recreation center, child-care center, public park, public transit center, library, or arcade.

And landlords at some properties that did work were hesitant to take him on as a tenant. Lathrop said about 10 people turned him down before he found the rundown, 620-square-foot space near Fourth Avenue South and South Lander Street, which he began renting in November.

Cannabis City has since hired 15 staff members, including security guards who will check IDs and manage the line when the shop first opens. Lathrop also installed 11 cameras — eight inside, three outside — and an advanced alarm system.

But simply getting the shop staffed and up to code wasn’t enough, Lathrop said. “We had to make it cool.”

There was no specific template for “cool,” and some of Lathrop’s ideas were subtle. The wood paneling on the wall and the floor planks, for example, are angled exactly 60 degrees. After adding the 360 degrees of a circle, he explained, that makes them 420 degrees.

This was so important to Lathrop that when the carpenter installed half of the floor at 45 degrees, Lathrop made him tear it up and start over, he said.

Finding a supplier that would be ready to ship for Cannabis City’s opening was no easy task. McGowan sent about 30 letters to suppliers before she found Nine Point, she said.

Lathrop can’t officially file the order with Nine Point until he’s received his license, which he’s told he will get via email Monday, but he doesn’t know exactly when. To comply with the state’s policy, Nine Point then has to quarantine the pot for 24 hours before shipping — a measure that will allow regulators to keep tabs on shipments as the industry continues to grow, said Brian Smith, spokesman for the Liquor Control Board.

So if Lathrop’s license doesn’t come until Monday afternoon, Cannabis City won’t have pot for sale until Tuesday afternoon.

Lathrop said he plans to open his store at “high noon” and hopes the weed has arrived by then, though he said that could change Monday if the license comes in later.

Sales will be in cash, and there’s an ATM in the shop.

Per the state inspector’s orders, they have to obscure the glass display cases that will hold the marijuana. As part of the state’s policy, retailers can’t place marijuana in view of passers-by. Though the windows are already blurred, the inspector feared wandering eyes would still be able to catch a glimpse of the product from the sidewalk if the door was opened, Lathrop said.

But aside from a few small alterations and a little red tape, Cannabis City is ready.

“We just need the cannabis to get on the shelves,” McGowan said.

AFP Photo/Desiree Martin

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