Having successfully navigated the Washington State Liquor Control Board’s complicated licensing process, Nine Point Growth Industries in Bremerton is living proof that it can be done.
While thousands of individuals and companies in Washington are caught in the near standstill of the licensing process, Nine Point CEO Gregory Stewart has had his operation up and running since early March.
But the transformation from ideas on paper to functioning, licensed grower and processor didn’t happen overnight. Stewart said the bulk of his planning stage began in July 2013, more than three months before the state began accepting licensing applications.
Stewart said he believes that additional planning, as well as communicating extensively with city, county and state officials, were big reasons he was able to receive his license comparatively early.
“It wasn’t easy, initially,” Stewart said. “A lot of people said ‘Hit the road.’ But after a while, they started to see that we were legit.”
Nine Point Growth Industries (www.ninepointgrowthindustries.com) was the second licensed marijuana business in the state, following Spokane-based Kouchlock Productions, which was licensed March 5.
Even now, almost two months later, only a small handful of businesses have received their licenses. As of April 18, there had been 18 producer licenses granted.
As the rest of the state — and in a certain regard, the entire nation — keeps an eye on the successes and failures of legal marijuana businesses, it’s critical for those in the industry to “do things right,” Stewart said.
“These three people sure think so,” he said, referring to himself and employees A.J. and Lynsee.
“We carry a lot of stresses. We understand the responsibility we have not just to our fellow growers, but to our community around us, to do it well, do it right and make people understand the sky isn’t going to fall.”
There have been numerous hurdles along the way. Some have been cleared through diligence, hard work and paying attention to the details, Stewart and his staff said.
However, some obstacles remain — the biggest of which is the banking question that looms over the entire industry.
Stewart said banking is a “huge concern” for the safety and success of cannabis businesses. He’s hopeful the issue will be addressed as soon as possible.
In addition to the banking debacle, Stewart and his team are still shackled by the pace of the state’s licensing process. Despite being one of the fortunate few companies to get its license, Nine Point Growth Industries will have cannabis ready for sale far sooner than retail stores will be open for business.
The state’s most recent projection for the opening of retail stores is July, but Nine Point will have bud dried, cured and ready to ship by the middle of May.
In early April, Nine Point’s warehouse facility featured some plants that were pushing eight feet in height — far larger than plants will be when production and sales hit full swing.
So far, one of the biggest challenges the business has faced has been “to educate and re-educate the people around me — Sometimes investors, sometimes fear-based people in my community and get them to relax and understand the potential of what we’re doing,” Stewart said.
Growing has been a passion of Stewart’s for about 40 years, but translating that passion into a legal business in the heavily-regulated world of I-502 has been another challenge Nine Point has faced, Lynsee said.
“He’s been doing this for a long time,” she said. “It’s a passion of his and he’s good at it. But then you have to filter in the true business aspects, which is creating the business structure, operational agreements, employee agreements.”
Stewart said his initial operations plan was “something like ‘turn on lights, water,’” but quickly realized that lack of detail wouldn’t fly under I-502.
“It takes some of the fun out of it,” Stewart said … but then looks over his shoulder at a warehouse room brimming with leafy, green — and most importantly, legal — cannabis plants.
The sight instantly reminds him: Despite the trials, the obstacles, the challenges, this is still fun.