Living the Dream: Shawn DeNae

Shawn DeNae

Washington Bud Company

Snohomish, Washington

Headlines of mergers, stock offerings and mega-deals often pull at my attention. But I remind myself that is not our lane to travel. We are small, we are family, we are craft cannabis. And, knock on wood, we are doing okay on the third anniversary of our first legal crop.

Washington state had an application fee of $250, which brought every grower, wannabe grower and his mother into the fray. There were more than 2,700 applicants that were pared down to about 1,200 licensed to grow. Five years in, I see sales figures for about 600 of us. We hang at around 150th, in the top third of producers.

We met with some industry folks recently who are part of the crowd I refer to as “MJ Roadkill.” Despite well-crafted spreadsheets, sufficient funding, a need to fill and skills to fill it, their cannabis businesses fell apart. Regulations, market forces and doomed partnerships have made for much heartache between family, former friends and partners. I know this not only from observation but personal experiences.

I originally applied for a second, stand-alone processing license to develop extraction products for Washington Bud Company. I worked for three years with a partner to get it licensed. But when it came time for them to put their money where their mouth was, the agreement unraveled.

Then the license was administratively withdrawn after they were evicted for failure to pay rent for several months. I even helped my mom acquire a grow license with the intent of feeding that processing business and creating a nice little income for her. But since the processing business became non-existent and the downward price pressure too strong to support it, that license had to be abandoned. She let it go, losing the $300,000 capital investment and creating uncomfortable feelings we are still navigating.

Recently, in an attempt to improve the bottom line of the remaining Washington Bud Company license, we experimented with a highly recommended, two-part, chemical-based nutrient line. The manufacturer has an extensive client list, the yield figures are impressive and when coupled with the labor-saving simplicity of mixing and application, we were intrigued. We devoted two plants of each strain to the new regimen and the harvest weights were true to expectations: 15% better yield. We cured it and rolled it up!

Blah!!! Each strain was a shadow of terpene flavor compared to the organic-fed crop. Each toke left a metallic taste in my mouth and none of us were fooled in a blind comparison as to which had the fresh nutrients and which the chemicals. Then the heavy metal test came back showing arsenic. The levels were under the action limits set by the state so it would have been legal to sell, but it will not see the trim table, let alone store shelves.

When companies look only at the bottom line, they can make mistakes the market will not forgive. Had we chosen to save costs and jump ship on our organic nutrient line we would have alienated our customer base and threatened our business.

My husband, Bill, often says, “The days of any-weed-is-better-than-no-weed are long gone.” Quality matters. Reputation matters. Relationships matter. Clean cannabis matters. Doing what’s right for ourselves, our company and those that work so hard to make it all happen is vital to our longevity.

So as the global market positions itself for mergers and acquisitions, we stay the course. We keep our nose to the grindstone. We keep the blinders on and we keep on trucking — all the while, thanking our lucky stars we are growing cannabis legally and well positioned to continue in our craft.



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