By NATALIE MARTIN
For The Beachcomber
As the state Liquor Control Board (LCB) begins to issue marijuana business licenses this week, several people are in line to start small marijuana growing and processing operations on Vashon.
While a list on the LCB’s website shows there have been at least 27 applications submitted by companies or people interested in growing and processing pot on the island, interviews with some of the applicants reveal a different picture.
Several applicants have dropped out since first applying for licenses last year, and others have changed or delayed their plans due to changing regulations. And while a few islanders contacted by The Beachcomber believed they would eventually be successful in the new recreational marijuana market, no one believed they were close to receiving permits.
“It’s a challenge,” said Scott Durkee, who has been planning a pot growing and processing operation with two other islanders. “There are lots of questions to answer and lots of hoops to jump through. They’ve really regulated the heck out of it.”
Durkee’s group, under the new LLC Buds of Vashon, applied for a tier 2 production permit — meaning the grow operation would be 2,000 to 10,000 square feet — as well as a permit to process, or dry and package, their product.
Their plans were thrown off, however, when late last year, the King County Council passed a new requirement that marijuana businesses 2,000 square feet or larger must obtain a conditional use permit (CUP). The development was seen by some as bad news for small pot operations, as the county’s CUP process can cost applicants thousands of dollars and takes months to complete.
“If you apply for a CUP right now, it’s not guaranteed you’ll get it before the deadline of getting your plants in the ground,” Durkee said, referring to the growing season for outdoor marijuana.
The LCB recently changed its own regulations as well. After receiving an huge influx of applications to grow marijuana in the state, the agency decided to temporarily limit the grow area associated with each permit to 70 percent of what it originally was. The limit may be lifted in the future.
Buds of Vashon decided to start with a smaller operation, hoping to take advantage of the summer growing season and give themselves time to obtain a CUP. Under the new state limits, they hope eventually grow up to 7,000 square feet of pot.
Durkee said he is unsure if they will break even in the first year, but believes they could eventually make money at the endeavor. They secured a greenhouse on Maury Island to use for the grow, he said, but must set up the high-security operation and pass an LCB inspection before receiving permits.
“Really this first year is a trial period because it’s such a ground-breaking experience for everybody,” he said.
Linda Schaeffer said she, too, has changed her plans as state and county regulations have changed. She decided to scale back her operation on 240th Street to avoid the CUP. She moved her plans indoors as well, something she said could also make the small business more financially feasible, as pot grows better indoors, she said.
As a real estate broker for 35 years, Schaeffer noted that she has grown accustomed to meeting changing regulations. She hasn’t had an LCB inspection yet, but believes she will meet all the requirements to be issued a permit in the end.
“Frustration is nothing new to me,” she said.
Joe Yarkin, who owns Sun Island Farm with his wife, is also scaling back his plans because of the new county regulations that require a CUP for what he applied for. He originally planned to grow three quarters of an acre of pot at his farm and sell it to off-island distributors, he said, but now he’ll only be able to plant one 20th of an acre if he receives a license.
“Basically it’s all the imbedded startup costs, but one-eighth of the potential crop,” he said.
Yarkin said he is still moving forward on his application, but more slowly now, and unlike others, he has yet to be contacted by the LCB for an interview.
“We lost our momentum with the rule changes to rush,” he said.
Yarkin, who is also a father of young children, said the process can be frustrating but he has also been happy to get positive feedback on his efforts from people he knows.
“I’m sure there are people who disagree with it,” he said. “I hope we don’t lose our vegetable customers.”
Other marijuana entrepreneurs have not been as flexible with their plans for start-ups on Vashon.
Richard Doane, an off-islander who also owns Burien Auto Repair, scrapped his plans to start a tier 2 grow operation on a family property on Wax Orchard Road after the county’s regulation change.
“That wasn’t anything they talked about in October and November when people were gearing up,” Doane said. “The CUP changes after the fact wasn’t something we figured into the budget.”
Islander James Clark was planning a solar-powered grow operation on the south end when King County amended its zoning regulations. Though Clark didn’t return calls from The Beachcomber, he did submit a letter to the editor published in this week’s issue that said regulations made his project economically unfeasible and he was frustrated at the county.
“It seems like the county should have consulted with the state experts when writing their rules and that those rules should have promoted low carbon means of production,” he wrote in the letter.
Several other marijuana business applicants could not be reached by The Beachcomber, and the status of their applications is unknown.
Tier 1 producer applications for grow operations up to 2,000 square feet — sometimes with accompanying marijuana processor applications — were submitted for properties on 267th Lane on the south end, Dockton Road and Cemetery Road.
Tier 2 producer applications for grow operations up to 10,000 square feet (or 7,000 square feet under new state limits) were submitted for properties on 87th Avenue and on Vashon Highway near the north end.
Finally, just one tier 3 producer application to grow up to 30,000 square feet (or 21,000 under new state limits) was submitted on Vashon, outside of the one being considered at the K2 building. The application, as well as one to process marijuana, was submitted by Green Island Organics, a new LLC registered to islander David Benham. Benham could not be reached by The Beachcomber.
Just one island company applied with the state to process marijuana only, applying to do so at a home at Gold Beach. The residents of the home did not return a call from The Beachcomber.
As Vashon residents attempt to navigate the new licensing system, one islander is trying to help and is gaining traction with his marijuana trade organization, the Vashon Island Marijuana Entrepreneurs Association (VIMEA).
Shango Los, who founded VIMEA last year, said the group has been meeting monthly and around 150 islanders have come to at least one of the meeting, which generally draw 30 to 50 people. Some are interested in growing and processing marijuana for sale, he said, and others are planning related businesses such as video surveillance installation or pot-friendly B&Bs. VIMEA has also held several topic-specific workshops.
Los, who has a background in businesses, says he has advised some who are considering their future in the new market for free, and some people are networking and sharing ideas at meetings as well. He has acted as a middleman between islanders and the Liquor Control Board, attempting to become an expert in the new regulations so he can answer questions.
“The goal is to get the conversation going and help people get their licenses so we have a stake in the game,” he said.
Los has even lobbied lawmakers in support of small marijuana businesses. He said he has seen some potential pot growers decide to wait on applying with the state, as the strict regulations make it a risky investment.
“The regulations are still very fluid, and as a part of democracy, we should be giving our feedback,” he said.
The LCB, which received 7,000 marijuana applications, will begin issuing licenses this week, and the process will likely take several months, according to Mikhail Carpenter, a spokesman for the LCB.
While some applicants have had inspections and are ready to begin operations, Carpenter said, many are not as far along in the process and some businesses haven’t even lined up their financing yet.
All applicants must submit business plans, prove they can finance their new businesses and pass criminal background checks as well as extensive interviews and inspections of their new operations before being issued a license.
“Not everybody is close to being ready,” he said. “As we say, each license is unique. Every person goes through the process at their own pace.”