Washington state was not only one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana, but it also features a regulatory scheme that makes it unlike any other legal cannabis market in the United States. Because vertical integration is prohibited, cannabis brands have proliferated in a way that gives consumers the ability to choose from a wide selection of products and manufacturers, completely independent of the retail store in which they’re shopping. And the state’s limitation of five retail licenses per person has kept intact some of the cottage industry that is quickly disappearing in markets throughout the country.
This month, Marijuana Venture continues its series on cannabis retailers around Washington state with a look at Island Herb, a cannabis store located on Whidbey Island that takes a medical approach to cannabis, and Buddy’s, a shop in the Seattle suburbs that leans on its musical roots.
In spite of his own experience with medical cannabis, Lucas Jushinski didn’t truly understand how much it helped other people until he opened his first dispensary and began interacting with patients on a daily basis.
Jushinski, a Navy veteran, founded Island Alternative Medicine in 2012 in the small town of Freeland, Washington, on Whidbey Island, providing cannabis to about 1,500 clients with a wide range of medical conditions. Every time customers would come into the shop, they’d tell Jushinski their stories and share with him how cannabis relieved their suffering.
“It really started to open my eyes to the beautiful magic of cannabis,” he says. “It just helps so many people on so many different levels, and it really blew my mind wide open.”
Those stories — and the desire to help organizations that had helped him during his own time of darkness — remain the foundation of Jushinski’s business today, even as tightened regulations have effectively eliminated Washington’s medical cannabis industry. In 2016, Island Alternative Medicine transitioned to the recreational sector and became Island Herb. Although cannabis retail employees are prohibited from giving “medical advice,” Jushinski wanted Island Herb to have a healing vibe. Each of the company’s 11 employees has a medical endorsement, and the store is always well-staffed so shoppers don’t feel rushed.
“I’ve got an amazing team of people that work in Island Herb,” Jushinski says. “They’re very caring and compassionate, so when people walk in, it feels different right away. They’re seen as a human being and not just a customer.”
Since the company’s inception, Jushinski has used a percentage of the profits to provide matching grants to local nonprofit organizations. He started giving back to groups that had helped him when he got out of the military in 2009 and was dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety from being in combat, but now donates to a wide range of organizations “that are helping people who are struggling the most,” including veterans, children and people experiencing homelessness.
As for his own struggles, Jushinski says he’s doing “extremely well” with his PTSD now. He found success through alternative methods of healing with plant-based medicines, not just cannabis, but also ayahuasca and other psychedelic substances.
“I found a path that was mostly not legal, but it was what worked for me and what helped me find my way out of the darkness that I was stuck in,” he says.
At a Glance
Transition to Rec
Lucas Jushinski opened Island Herb on 4/20 in 2016, taking over the location that previously housed his medical dispensary, Island Alternative Medicine. But Jushinski wanted to keep the medical access point open as long as possible, so he moved the dispensary to a new location until new state rules forced unlicensed cannabis retailers to close on July 1, 2016.
Jushinski says he wishes state regulations were more accommodating for medical patients. While 10 milligrams of THC might be fine for most recreational consumers, that serving size doesn’t suit many consumers with debilitating illnesses.
“I feel like a lot of the medical community got the shit end of the stick,” he says, “because I have clients who have terminal cancer or very painful chronic conditions, and to tell them, ‘Hey, I’m sorry, I can only give you these edibles that have 10 milligrams of THC,’ when they were getting brownies that had 500 or 1,000 milligrams of THC, it’s really disheartening because some people really benefit from higher amounts of THC.”
Island Herb is one of seven cannabis retailers currently operating in Washington’s Island County, which is composed of nine islands in Puget Sound. In addition to Island Herb, Freeland Cannabis Company, Kaleafa, The Green Room, The Weed Shop and Whidbey Island Cannabis Company are on Whidbey Island, while Bud Hut is the lone cannabis shop on Camano Island.