An employee collects money while holding packages of marijuana at Top Shelf Cannabis.David Ryder / Getty Images
Anyone who anticipated an immediate bonanza for the state’s new marijuana industry, though, was to be disappointed. The shortages found at most shops signaled a rough start for an experiment that Alison Holcomb, who helped the push toward legalization at the state ACLU, said is intended to undercut the black market. She wondered if the Liquor Control Board might need to make changes in order to truly achieve that.
“I’m glad the Liquor Control Board has emphasized consumer safety and quality control over expediency, but I do wonder whether the agency should expand its staffing capacity to process license applications from growers,” she said. “Unlike Colorado, where applicants were already licensed as medical marijuana businesses and making money while they waited, Washington’s producer applicants are losing money every month and jeopardizing the viability of the retail shops.”
Around the corner from Spokane Green Leaf, inside another recreational marijuana shop called Satori, the glass cases were sparkling — but they were empty. The store was one of many that delayed business until they could get a full stock of product on their shelves, according to owner Justin Wilson. At Green Leaf, just two strains of legal cannabis were available; when Satori opens, it hopes to have more than 20.
By noon, staff next door at Wilson’s other business — a tobacco pipe and glass shop called Piece of Mind — had turned away a dozen people looking to purchase marijuana.
Opening for business has been no easy task. Wilson, who has owned 13 glass shops in Washington, Oregon, Montana, Alaska and Hawaii over the past two decades, said recreational marijuana shops involve unique, pricey infrastructure. Security cameras must be accessible by the Liquor Control Board at all times, and employees are outfitted with panic buttons. Even store signs can’t measure larger than 11 square feet. And, of course, all product must be trackable — from seed to sale.
Wilson, who said he named his store after the Buddhist term for awakening (“In a sense, our government, our people, have had that epiphany — their satori — that this isn’t that big of a deal”), doesn’t mind opening late. He’d rather do it right, and make sure he’s abiding by the state rules. Satori, which is located in another strip mall alongside Wilson’s glass shop, an e-cigarette store and a Domino’s Pizza, is slated to open next week.
“I think [the state wants stores] to succeed, in my opinion, to show to the feds it works, to show to the general public that it works, to show other states that it works and other countries that it works,” he said. “And I hope that by them being so scrutinizing … it’ll weed out —”
“Sorry, bad pun,” he said. “It’ll weed out those who can’t handle it and those who want to run a transparent and viable operation. There will be failure.”