Washington’s first legal pot grower was introduced by state officials Wednesday as an entrepreneur who followed the rules and outhustled other applicants to the finish line.
Sean Green, 32, now runs medical-marijuana dispensaries in Spokane and Shoreline. He plans to open a 21,000-square-foot growing and processing facility in Spokane.
Officials at the state Liquor Control Board (LCB) said Green was one of the first to apply, and hurdled each step of the vetting process without hang-ups.
He “hustled as if was competing at Sochi,” said board member Ruthann Kurose. She said another dozen growing licenses would soon be awarded by the LCB. Farmers are getting the first licenses so they can grow and harvest weed for state-licensed retail stores expected to open this summer.
Green’s license was hailed as a milestone in Washington’s march to creating a system for regulating production and sale of pot, which remains illegal under federal law.
“It’s one thing to talk about marijuana legalization. It’s a much different thing to see it now roll out,” said Alison Holcomb, chief author of the new law that allows adults to possess an ounce of weed.
Green’s company is called Kouchlock Productions. “Couch-lock” is a term for being too stoned to get off the sofa. After receiving his license Green exclaimed “Jimmy Kimmel, yes, I will come on your show.”
In introducing him, LCB Chair Sharon Foster echoed Green’s sentiment that he’s a guy who follows the rules.
But according to complaints with the state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I), Green withheld wages from two employees at his Shoreline dispensary. A department spokeswoman said Green’s company paid the wages, totaling more than $1,600, and resolved the issue last year.
On his license application, Green reported that his non-profit medical business, Pacific Northwest Medical, had annual revenue of $800,000. He reported his salary as $129,600.
When asked about the wage complaints at a news conference in Olympia, Green said, “I was not aware of the complaints.”
But L&I spokesman Matthew Erlich said employers, such as Green, would receive a copy of complaints workers file with the agency. He confirmed with The Associated Press that the department dealt directly with Green to get the complaints resolved.
There’s more. Lydia Ensley, in her L&I complaint about withheld wages, noted that Green “sexually harassed other workers (and) asked me to lie as manager … when confronted about the sexual harassment employer Sean Green dismissed incident and asked me to overlook it.”
Ensley herself did not complain about being harassed. The Seattle Times was not able to speak with the allegedly harassed employee.
Erlich noted that L&I doesn’t handle sexual harassment complaints. Those matters are referred to the state Human Rights Commission, he said. He said the referral in this case would have been conveyed in a conversation, not a formal document.
A spokeswoman for the commission said it had no records of sexual harassment complaints about Green or his business.
When asked again about the complaints before he left the Liquor Control Board (LCB) office, Green twice said, “I won’t be addressing that today.”
State officials said Green passed criminal background checks and financial investigations in applying for his business Looking at L&I complaints is not part of the qualifying process for state pot business licenses.
LCB Director Rick Garza said the vetting mirrors what the agency does for liquor-license applications, which also do not include workers’ complaints to L&I. Garza said the agency may need to look at workers’ complaints.
Board member Chris Marr said Green will need to comply with all rules going forward. It’s likely, Marr said, that some applicants would be “involved in legal actions” but the state rules are specific on what would disqualify an applicant and a complaint to L&I is not among them.
Today’s announcement of Green’s license in Olympia was otherwise a celebration, packed by LCB staff and Green’s employees.
A former real estate appraiser in Spokane, Green said he got into the marijuana business when appraisals “one day just stopped” because of the sagging economy. That led him to open his Shoreline dispensary in 2011. He said he started the business with just $10,000. He said he plans to employ at least 30 people at his new recreational pot business in Spokane.
His dream, he said, is to take his business national one day, assuming the federal prohibition of pot ends. He envisions 78 stores and 57 manufacturing facilities around the country. Green said the precise numbers mirror the establishments of a family friend Arthur Oberto, founder of Oberto Sausage Company.
He said challenges remained for his business, though, especially in banking. Green said his most recent bank canceled his account when it learned he was in the medical-marijuana business. That was the sixth time he lost a bank account because of his business, he said.
Becky Smith, the LCB’s licensing director, said she expected to receive maybe 2,500 marijuana business applications in the one month the agency accepted them.
Instead the LCB was flooded with more than 7,000 applications. Marr likened the process of vetting those to “drinking from a fire hose.”
“We have a lot riding on this,” Marr said of licensing. “We have to get this right.”