SEATTLE — Dot-bong, Marijuana Inc., the Green Rush: Call it what you will, the burgeoning legal marijuana industry in Washington state is drawing pot prospectors of all stripes.
Microsoft veterans and farmers, real estate agents and pastry chefs, former journalists and longtime pot growers alike are seeking new challenges — and fortunes — in the production, processing and sale of a drug that’s been illegal for generations.
In Colorado, the only other state to legalize marijuana, existing medical marijuana dispensaries can begin selling for recreational use in January. But in Washington, where sales are expected to begin in late spring, the industry is open to nearly anyone — provided they’ve lived in the state for three months, pass a background check, be residents of Washington state and are willing to have their potential grow or retail areas inspected by the state. They also have to pay a nonrefundable $250 for every application. State officials received dozens of applications online to sell, grow and process marijuana Monday, the first day applications to take part in Washingtons legal pot marketplace were accepted. At the Department of Revenue headquarters in Tumwater, officials said they got 50 applications online in the first hours of operations. There were more who came to the headquarters in person.
There are three types of licenses: marijuana producer, marijuana processor or marijuana retailer. The state says no business can hold all three licenses and the number of retail licenses will be limited. The licenses will be issued in early 2014.
Here are some hoping to make their mark in the new world of legal weed.
The pig farmer
Bruce King says he was a 22-year-old high-school dropout when Microsoft hired him as its 80th employee in 1986. A software engineer, he eventually left and started or acquired two other companies — telephone adult chat and psychic hotlines — but he really wanted to farm and started breeding pigs. After Washington legalized marijuana last fall, he looked at pot as any other crop, and found a farm with a 25,000-square-foot barn for a marijuana operation. King, 50, doesn’t like pot himself, but says, “If people are going to eat a stupid drug, they should eat my stupid drug.”
Marla Molly Poiset had swapped her three-decade-old home-furnishing store and interior design business in Colorado for a life of world travel when she learned some devastating news: Her eldest daughter had leukemia. She suspended her travels to help her daughter and her family through the ordeal. She then continued her tour, attending cooking school in Paris. Poiset, 59, graduated last spring, and had an idea: Blending pastries with medical pot. So she abandoned Paris for Seattle, where she’s been developing recipes for marijuana-infused chocolate truffles for recreational and medical use.
If legal pot is the Green Rush, Daniel Curylo has some unique credentials: He’s been an actual prospector. He helped put himself through college working for a company that flew him into northern British Columbia and the Yukon, where he panned for gold and took soil samples. He also grew and sold pot in those days with classmates. A former techie and ex-house flipper, Curylo, 41, hopes to develop a cannabis business park that would feature his growing operation, Cascade Crops, as well as retail stores run by his mother, father and aunt.
“The poster child for anti-cannabis”
Angel Swanson was raised on the South Side of Chicago by a mother who warned: “If you see drugs, run.” Decades later, she still had a strong bias against illegal drugs — “the poster child for anti-cannabis.” That is, until one of her daughters, who had serious digestive issues and never weighed more than 100 pounds, ate a full plate of food after trying pot-laced cookies. They stimulated her appetite. Swanson lost it, but then saw pot could help her daughter. Swanson and her husband opened a medical pot dispensary, and now want to sell it retail.
From MBA to THC
Todd Spaits, 39, and Bilye Miller, 38, are more gym-and-yoga than smoke-and-cough. The couple doesn’t use pot but they say they know a good business opportunity when they see one. The pair previously worked in online marketing in San Diego, and Spaits has a master’s in business administration. Now, they say they are excited about Washington’s grand experiment, sought advice from friends who run medical dispensaries in California and are hoping to use their talents to sell pot.
The path from addiction
It started with small doses that eased the aches of restaurant work. But over time, Yevgeniy “Eugene” Frid found himself addicted to prescription painkillers. He tried to quit many times, and when he finally did, he says, cannabis played a huge role. Frid, 28, quit his job at a video game company and started a medical marijuana dispensary with a friend. He says it is gratifying to help patients get off opiates the way he did, so he has mixed feelings about applying for a recreational retail license.
The security guard
For a guy with a uniform and a gun, Steve Smith was unusually welcome at medical marijuana dispensaries. Of course, he was a security guard, not a federal drug agent. Smith, 29, had a background in food marketing. His father worked for a large grocery cooperative in California. He earned a degree in agriculture business management and started marketing organic and natural products for a food broker. When he worked as a security guard to keep busy and make some extra money, he realized he wanted to open his own shop.
The secret pop
Cecilia Sivertson, who worked as a paralegal in a prosecutor’s office and then a labeling business, has epilepsy and arthritis in her hands. About two years ago, she says, she noticed improvement in both when she started using marijuana. Last spring, Sivertson, 55, began making products infused with cannabis oil under her “Nana’s Secret” line. Her specialty is pot-infused pop — with the pop concentrate produced by a client of the labeling business. She’s applying to become a licensed marijuana processor.
Cannabis: a force for good
Paul Schrag, 40, has a simple philosophy: He hopes to use his skills to do the most good in the world. For a while, that meant working in journalism, enticed by its power to shape public discourse. Nowadays, it means working in the pot industry. He’s been growing marijuana since 1999 and uses it to treat neck pain. He began working at a medical marijuana collective. He plans to do marketing, research and development for a grower, and believes his knowledge of pot and business will help.