Vancouver workshop addresses business of pot

Potential producers learn ins and outs of retail marijuana sales

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

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Fear of stigma seems to be slowly giving way to larger business concerns for those hoping to enter Clark County’s recreational marijuana market.

At a special Washington State Liquor Control Board licensing workshop in Vancouver on Friday, several attendees said they were worried about the producer’s market being flooded with new inexperienced companies.

“My biggest concern is supply and demand,” said Chris, who asked that his last name not be used. “If we have 10,000 people get producer’s licenses, what happens to the market then?”

Chris didn’t want his name used because he fears he’ll lose business at his day job if clients find out he’s applying for marijuana producer and processor licenses.

Clark County is approved for 15 retail marijuana licenses, which will be determined by a lottery if the board has more applicants than are allotted.

But there are no caps on the number of producer or processor licenses, Nicola Reid, a marijuana licensing investigator for the board, told the crowd at the Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay.

And that means growers with no business experience could flood the market, driving down prices, Chris said.

“A lot of people who don’t have the business sense along with the knowledge of growing — it’s going to be tough for them,” Chris said. “It’s a brave new world. It will be interesting to see how the market shakes out.”

People can apply for licenses during a short window from Nov. 18 to Dec. 19. There are no other application windows planned after that, and board officials said they were unsure if there ever will be another one.

About 230 people attended workshop sessions, held in two rooms. Those in the crowd ranged vastly, with suited clean-cut business types, shaggy-haired 20-somethings in jeans, 30-somethings with dreadlocks, gray-haired farmers and a few older family groups.

For some, it was the first time they’d been able to interact with others looking to enter the complicated new industry. Finding business partners can be difficult when the thing you’re selling has so many legal complications attached, said Lisa, who’s hoping to get producer and processor licenses with her family.

She also didn’t want her last name used for fear of backlash from the community over issues surrounding marijuana.

“We would like to network with people, but there’s been no opportunity for that,” Lisa said. “It’s also hard putting all the money out there and then not knowing if you’ll get the license.”

Licenses, when approved, will cost about $1,000. It costs a bit over $250 to apply for each individual license, and that fee is not refundable.

Applicants also have to have a proposed location for their business, and that generally means paying rent on a spot, possibly for several months, while waiting for license approval and other red tape to be sorted out, Lisa said.

The goal of the meeting was to talk about business-specific issues, not to talk about general topics, Reid told the group.

“Today is not a time for you to stand up and give us feedback on our rules,” Reid said. “Today is not about medical marijuana.”

That didn’t stop a few audience members from shouting out their concerns about how medical marijuana rules will be altered as the retail marijuana market gets put in place.

But for the most part the organizers were able to keep the group on track.

Another issue for those looking to set up shop is to figure out where their stock will come from initially.

“We do understand some people may already be in the business and may already have equipment, and that’s fine; we just need you to be honest (in the interview parts of the application process),” Reid told the group.

But not all applicants have stock.

“How do I attain clones or seeds?” one attendee asked.

“It’s magic,” another shouted out.

There will be a 14-day window for people to get their growing stock, and the state isn’t asking how. Those who don’t have access can buy stock from licensed growers who do have stock during that window.

Attendees also voiced concerns about having their names and locations disclosed to the public. For some, those concerns were about their privacy or a fear of backlash. For others, it was a fear that criminals would find their address and try to steal their crops.

The board will keep the information confidential until the licenses are approved, Reid said, but after approval it becomes public, which is the law.

“Once you become licensed by the state we have public disclosure laws that we have to abide by,” Reid said.

That said, the board may hold back on listing the businesses on its website and only provide the information when requested. Liquor licensees are listed on the agency’s website, but marijuana rules are still under discussion.

For more information on the rules or the process, visit the board’s website at http://www.liq.wa.gov/.

Sue Vorenberg: 360-735-4457; http://www.twitter.com/col_suevo; sue.vorenberg@columbian.com.