Monday, March 18, 2013
WA: "State’s First Big Marijuana Grow Operation is Announced, and Here’s the Fun Part – It’s in a Public Building"
Erik Smith (Washington State Wire):
OLYMPIA, March 16.—Here’s a sign of how the world has changed since Washington voters passed a first-of-its kind marijuana-legalization initiative last November. A Seattle entrepreneur has taken out a lease for what he hopes will become a big indoor grow operation. Unthinkable enough just a few months ago, but get this: He’ll be growing the once-forbidden fruit in a public building.
Seattle restaurateur Marcus Charles will take over a part of vacant sawmill complex at the Port of Willapa Harbor in Raymond, Wash., a coastal community hard-hit by decades of downturn in the lumber industry. Port officials say Washington’s new cannabis industry is a good fit. They have the buildings. Charles has the capital. And isn’t that the way economic development is supposed to work?
And so, under the brave new world created by Washington’s Initiative 502, it looks like all that campaign talk about green jobs is coming true. It’s just not what political leaders had in mind during the last campaign when they were talking about windmills and soybean-powered airplanes. “We appreciate that there are no odors, no wastewater, no on-and-on,” said port manager Susan Chaffee. “But for us it is the jobs. It is the jobs.
“We have lost jobs and lost jobs, and we have high unemployment. We are losing our young people, we are losing our family-age working people, and our population is aging. We are the classic rural community that is just struggling to survive. We no longer have shipping, we no longer have rail, we don’t have good highway access – I mean, the list of what we don’t have goes on and on. But we do like living here. It is a nice community, and we think this could provide an opportunity for us.”
An Evergreen-State Business Opportunity
Where marijuana once was rather frowned upon, to say the least, you can definitely say there’s a new attitude in business and government. Initiative 502, one of two marijuana-legalization initiatives approved in this country last year, opens the door to legal investment in a business that already generates well over $1 billion in sales ever year. This state arguably is further along than Colorado, because the legalization measure in the Mile-High State did not prescribe the new market structure with the same level of detail. In Washington, I-502 created an intricate taxation scheme and a “three-tier” market structure for production, processing and retailing, much like that which exists for alcoholic beverages nationwide. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but unless the feds go to court to snuff the budding industry, state officials expect to finish drafting regulations in June and begin awarding production licenses. The grow season for Washington’s new cash crop might begin as soon as August.
Enter Marcus Charles, a successful entrepreneur in the restaurant and bar trade in the Seattle area. Charles, 39, has launched a series of bars and restaurants in Seattle since age 23, starting with Pioneer Square’s Marcus’ Martini Heaven. Currently he operates the Crocodile, a music venue, and the nearby Local 360 restaurant and bar. “It seems kind of weird talking about it, because it has been such a taboo, but how often does a new industry present itself in a lifetime?”
Charles says it’s all about business. Marijuana really wasn’t on his mind during last year’s initiative campaign – and he certainly wasn’t part of the political movement that gathered the signatures that placed the measure before the Legislature last year and ultimately forwarded the issue to the ballot. “I personally have no great passion about marijuana,” he said. “I am not a big smoker. I did not vote for the initiative. I was just indifferent.”
But when it got 55 percent of the vote – that’s when he sat up and took notice. “I think there’s a business opportunity here, and I think my skill set is suited to it.”
A Thumbs-Up From Government