Islander Shango Los claims that in the 1970s, Vashon Island had a reputation for producing good marijuana, so much so that it was even written about in an issue of Playboy. Now Los, who recently started the Vashon Island Marijuana Entrepreneurs Alliance (VIMEA), hopes to see Vashon-grown marijuana revive such a reputation, and he wants to make sure it’s Vashon residents, not enterprising off-islanders, who are producing it.
“We get to do it with our own social mores and keep the profits here,” Los told a small group of islanders interested in pot businesses last week at the north-end grange hall.
For the past few months, Los, a small business owner who has a background in marketing and communications, has been working to help prepare Vashon residents for what many are calling the gold rush of this generation — the legal sale of recreational marijuana in Washington following the implementation of Initiative 502.
The energetic 42-year-old, who also has a business breeding and selling specialty
shrimp, has been reaching out to known Vashon marijuana growers — both of illegal marijuana growing operations and legal medicinal ones. He’s also been talking with those interested in starting new marijuana-related businesses and funneling questions to officials at the state Liquor Control Board, which will regulate as many as 61 pot stores in King County, as well as marijuana growing and processing in the state. Los created a new Facebook page for VIMEA, is collecting initial information for a database of marijuana-friendly businesses on Vashon and held the group’s first community meeting last Thursday at the grange.
About 20 islanders showed for the VIMEA mixer, where some observed the meeting quietly and others frequently piped in to discuss how they hope to make money off marijuana, ask questions about the new laws and suggest how members of the group might collaborate in the future.
Islander Mandy Dumins attended the meeting after reading an announcement about it and said she left more determined than before to start a marijuana-related business.
“We’re so glad we found (the meeting) and so glad we went,” she said.
Dumins and her fiancé, an author and retired computer programmer who uses medical marijuana to help control his central pain syndrome, currently grow a few plants legally, she said. The two are now considering growing pot on their 2-acre property at the north end, a business the 52-year-old said would fit their lifestyle and supplement their income. They considered starting a retail operation as well, but at the VIMEA meeting learned that the Liquor Control Board won’t allow one business to both grow pot and manage a retail outlet.
Dumins, an artist who has a degree in graphic design, said she also hopes to design logos for new marijuana businesses on the island in addition to selling pot to distributors.
“The opportunity is perfect right now, especially if it’s centered around Vashon for us,” she said.
Indeed, Los said, Vashon seems an ideal spot for new marijuana businesses and growing operations. With much of the island zoned agricultural, Vashon is one of a handful of places in King County well suited for outdoor pot farms. In addition, Los said, the ferry could prevent some of the crime that some worry will spring up around new marijuana businesses.
“King County has said ‘You’ve got the best of all worlds,’” Los said at last week’s meeting.
In an interview with The Beachcomber, Los said that he doesn’t grow marijuana and while he may profit in the future by providing consulting for new businesses, right now he simply wants to see them get up and going, something he believes will be easier if islanders collaborate and share their ideas and skills.
Some he’s spoken to, Los said, are hesitant to start marijuana businesses or discuss their ideas for fear of backlash from the community or those they know.
“It’s been taboo for a long time, and people who want to exercise their rights within I-502 are being extra cautious because they don’t want to alienate their neighbors,” Los said. “Everyone’s at home talking at their dining room tables, but no one’s talking as a community.”
Los, however, is trying to spread the message that Vashon will actually be better off if islanders, whom he frequently refers to as “good neighbors,” step up to grow, process and sell pot. If they don’t, he said, it’s likely people from off-island will purchase or rent Vashon property to do so and won’t show islanders the same considerations that island residents who are familiar with the community might.
While he believes there may inevitably be some negative impacts related to marijuana farming and sales, Los said, they’ll be more controlled if islanders are in the drivers’ seat.
“I’m not naive to the social impacts,” he said. “But if we don’t encourage islanders to be the growers, we won’t have a say in how marijuana agriculture evolves on Vashon.”
Vashon business owners, Los added, could also create local jobs and keep profits on the island. He’s even encouraging people to share their future profits and donate some of their new income to local causes.
“If we do this right, there’s no reason we should have a problem paying for ball fields or church groups trying to raise money for a new freezer,” he said. “If managed correctly, this could be a huge boon for our community.”
Jim Marsh, who heads the Vashon Maury Island Chamber of Commerce and attended last week’s VIMEA meeting, said he agreed that the legalization of marijuana sales will bring changes to Vashon’s business scene, but he wasn’t yet sure how it would play out.
“I think there’s a lot of potential for the growing,” he said. “We grow really good apples and other produce here. We might as well grow good pot.”
The state Liquor Control Board recently announced it would license 61 marijuana stores in King County. As an unincorporated area, Vashon will be eligible for one or more of 11 at-large licenses. One state official suggested that if no Vashon resident step up to establish a marijuana retail outlet on the island, the state may assign an off-islander to open a shop.
Online applications for business permits are due Nov. 18, with the winners of a lottery for retail stores to be announced in December.
Marsh said the chamber would welcome legal marijuana business owners as members and could provide some resources for the start-up operations, but he was happy to see someone with specific knowledge about marijuana and the related laws volunteer to help others.
“It’s going to be a legal business on the island no matter what,” he said. “It’s nice to see someone stepping up, because we would get a lot of calls and we don’t know all the answers.”