Marijuana grower eyes budding industry despite moratorium

December 10, 2013

By Peter Clark

Issaquah’s future marijuana economy could start with one man.

Despite a six-month moratorium on the production and retail of marijuana passed by the City Council in September, Issaquah-resident Lance Blanchard has applied for a state license to produce marijuana in the city.

“It’s been a long time coming, that this legislation was going to happen,” Blanchard said about the passage of Initiative 502 last year. “There is an opportunity here to become a different type of business. Small business is the backbone of our economy, and Issaquah is just perfect for that.”

The state Liquor Control Board opened a monthlong window Nov. 20 for interested parties to apply for three types of recreational marijuana suppliers. While rules for legalization approved in October limit the number of retail sites for each municipality, no such restrictions exist for the number of processor and producer licenses available. The application for licenses costs $250, with a $1,000 annual renewal fee.

After spending 28 years in the region as a graphic designer and creative director for multiple locations, the 48-year-old Blanchard decided to take a chance to license his outfit, named Smash Cooperative. His interest arose in creating a growing operation with the state’s further deregulation of medical marijuana passage in 2010. Then, when I-502 passed last year allowing the production, purchase and use of recreational marijuana, he decided to apply.

“When the medical marijuana started, my interest peaked,” he said. “I always said once it is conducive, I will move forward. I’ve done tons and tons of research, and I want to do this.”

Blanchard said his vision most closely resembles that of a microbrewery or a winery. He found his role of a “budtender” to involve growing “really great strains” to cultivate an appreciation of the product. Aiming for a sustainable, quality operation, he said his plan would start with five organic strains from Amsterdam., He said he hopes to eventually experiment and create different flavor profiles, smells and experiences with the plants.

“This is like going to Napa Valley,” he said about what the future of recreational marijuana production could look like. “This is like going to the Ste. Michelle Winery in Woodinville.”

He backed up his vision with a working business plan that includes an extremely detailed overview of the production process, complete with strict temperature limits for stages of growth and a set pH level for any fertilizer.

“I have a tremendous amount of experience,” he said about growing marijuana, though he would not go into details.

A large roadblock to Blanchard’s plan is Issaquah’s six-month moratorium against recreational marijuana facilities, enacted Sept. 3. The council and the administration both said passing it was in reaction to the multitude of questions yet to be answered at the state level.

City Associate Planner Jason Rogers said even though Blanchard could certainly receive a license, using it would not be allowed under the city’s current prohibition.

“If he were to apply for a land-use permit, we couldn’t entertain that with our moratorium,” Rogers said, adding that he had been in touch with Blanchard, who understands the current situation.

Rogers said recreational marijuana facilities would happen, though he did not know what city rules would allow.

“We can’t do any permits right now and I don’t even know that the local zoning rules are going to look like,” he said, acknowledging the risk applicants take in seeking state licenses. “They almost have to take the chance. We won’t have a moratorium indefinitely.”

The state Liquor Control Board said local moratoria, like ones also approved in Sammamish and Olympia, would not keep the state from giving licenses to qualified applicants.

“What happens at the local level is not going to drive what happens at the state level,” Liquor Control Board spokesman Brian Smith said. “If an applicant meets the requirements, then we will issue them a license. However, they have to comply with local rules and regulations.”

With the number of applicants, Smith said the board expected diverging aims.

“Clearly, there’s been a lot of attention around this process,” he said. “There will be some friction at the local levels over time.”

Blanchard praised the state and Issaquah for making the implementation a public and careful undertaking. He said he respects the slow approach and believes that it should not be rushed.

Despite the moratorium, Blanchard wants to bring production to Issaquah.

“I live here and I love it,” he said. “It feels like the right type of place.”

He has already identified a few places that are up for lease, though he wants to stay away from areas where marijuana production would be less than welcome. He said he does not want to offend anyone.

“To me, the real issue is: It’s coming, there’s no stopping it, so let’s do it right,” Blanchard said. “If it’s done right, if it’s done sustainable, it could be a very profitable, successful organization.”

Under the approved state rules, Issaquah would be allowed one retail location after the moratorium lifts. The Liquor Control Board’s window for applications of all types will close Dec. 20. Learn more and apply at liq.wa.gov.

 

 

 

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