Living the Dream: Shawn DeNae

Shawn DeNae and Sean O’Leary, with the Arlington Cannabis Coalition, stand for a photo in front of the Washington state capitol in Olympia.

Shawn DeNae

Washington Bud Company

Snohomish, Washington

The most rewarding things in life, I’ve read, are to be acknowledged, affirmed and appreciated. The legal cannabis landscape is getting there in Washington state.

I recently made the five-hour round trip to Olympia, our state capital, to participate in a lobby day hosted by our most active and broad industry group, The Cannabis Alliance. The reception was a stark contrast to the first time I showed up for a lobby day in 2011. Back then, I was lucky to gain an audience with a state senator as they swiftly trucked to their next meeting, with me in lock-step attempting to get our message across as the winter wind blew and we navigated rain puddles.

We were barely acknowledged and mostly avoided back then.

Each year I travel to that hallowed ground I’m finding a warmer welcome — affirmation of our contribution to the state’s coffers.

After eight years and countless trips to Olympia, DeNae has witnessed a change in state politicians who are now more than willing to stop and talk with cannabis lobbyists. Dozens of professionals took part in The Cannabis Alliance’s lobby day in January, including, from left to right, Oscar Velasco-Schmitz, Caitlin Ryan,  DeNae, Matthew Friedlander and Erik Johansen.

We are not only finally being acknowledged, but there is a hint of appreciation creeping in.

Laws and rules were originally made in a vacuum, to quote Rick Garza, director of the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board. They didn’t know what they didn’t know, and they didn’t trust us yet to help guide them. Come to think about it, we didn’t know what we didn’t know, either!

Five years into legalization, we all know better. The trick is to separate the necessary from the pointless without hampering the flow of ganja dollars to support not only the state, but those of us that make it happen. And like any pointed subject, we all have varied opinions on how to improve the system; it all revolves around who’s being heard by whom. Do the special interest agencies and lobbyists continue to get the ear or are they ready to hear from those in the trenches like me? I think they are ready.

My senator has expressed that he does not “believe in marijuana,” but will uphold the law (as if cannabis reform is a belief). One of my representatives is extremely non-committal to the topic, while the other has shown years of open ears and understanding for our small business concerns. She is my champion in Olympia but sits on the Transportation Committee, far down the line of vital committees for cannabis bills.

I have taken to the direct contact route. Whether I am a constituent or not, these folks are going to hear directly from me this session. The state Legislature has agreed on which set of lawmakers will carry cannabis bills into committee so now there is a better-defined target audience. I have saved the emails and phone numbers of the House Commerce and Gaming and the Senate Labor and Commerce committees, the first committees to hear proposed cannabis legislation. Neither of them have a representative from my district, but these committees are the gate-keepers where cannabis bills will go to die or live another day.

Five years ago, I was interviewed by local TV news and as we walked the field where our grow buildings now sit, the reporter asked me about the future. I stated that this area could be like the “Napa Valley of Weed.” That vision got closer to reality in February when sponsors were secured on a bill that would allow direct sales at our grow locations. House Bill 1995 defines law for sales to consumers from certain producers and processors. Even if it passes through the gauntlet of committees and gets past the governor’s desk, the reality of having guests up to the farm to buy our cannabis will have to be blessed by our county, so the battle will continue. But it’s a good fight I am prepared to eventually win.

Cannabis activism has taught me deeper resilience and persistent patience. This year I anticipate feeling acknowledgment of who we are, affirmation of our struggles and appreciation for our contributions so far. We are still at the beginning.


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