Pot growers, processors sifting through logistics of licensing, compliance

Mark Zugsmith, owner of Pacific Overseas Tree Company, has applied for licenses to produce and process marijuana in White Salmon. Zugsmith has been selling Siddhi Tonics for about a year and a half and currently sells it to medicinal dispensaries in Seattle, but hopes to introduce the product to retail marijuana stores once they are opened. Siddhi Tonic, which includes bhang, a cannabis tonic, can be added to drinks, smoothies, or yogurt.

(Editor’s Note: The exact locations of both production and processing operations are not named in this story to protect the integrity of those businesses.)

A new wave is breaking in the state of Washington.

There are hundreds of potential entrepreneurs taking advantage of the new Initiative 502 that passed last December making the recreational sale and use of marijuana legal for adults throughout the state, but in Klickitat County there have been 13 applications to produce, 11 to process, and four to sell it in a free and fair market, the waters of which have thus far been untested from a regulatory point of view until now.

As of Dec. 17, the Klickitat County Board of Commissioners lifted a 60-day-old moratorium on the growing and processing of marijuana, but continued a temporary ban on retail operations. The Washington State Liquor Control Board stopped taking applications for licenses on Dec. 20.

Of those who have applied for licenses to produce and process marijuana in Klickitat County three are in White Salmon and one is in Lyle. One entity listed as “Cannabee” on a list of potential licensees provided by the county is attempting to start a retail business in Bingen.

For those who are attempting to ride this wave of highly-regulated marijuana sales and production, getting through the logistics of establishing an operation has been complicated. Fred Heany, owner of Syncline Northwest, has applied for licenses to be both a marijuana producer and processer in White Salmon.

Despite the many barriers he’s had to overcome to start his business here, including the moratorium, Heany said he’ll do anything to keep things moving.

“It’s a no-brainer for me. As soon as I saw that it was finally happening I said “OK, what do I need to do? I’ll give blood to make this happen. I’ll give hair. Whatever it takes,’” Heany said. “There’s a sacrifice that has to be made and I’m going to do it and it’s going to be worth it. A little bit of suffering now on the front end is going to have an incredible reward on the back end.”

Heany is originally from White Salmon, but said he spent his childhood between here and Hawaii, where he picked up some techniques for growing and processing marijuana. His mother, who died of cancer when he was a teenager, was open to the idea of using marijuana to alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy, which furthered his curiosity of its uses.

Later, he would join the Washington Army National Guard and gained experience in conventional warfare overseas. His experiences there gave him the skills necessary to deal with the specific details pertaining to security of his business that must be met under I-502.

“If I can keep a convoy protected in a terrorist element or a vessel or a compound from guys with machine guns who are wanting to kill me, I’m not concerned with a grow operation at all,” he said.

And those security requirements are many. I-502 allows producers to grow their product outside, but it all has to be fully enclosed by a physical barrier and kept out of sight by an obscure wall or fence that is at least eight feet high. Each licensed business must also have a security system with video surveillance.

The law even goes as far as requiring a minimum camera resolution of 640 by 470 pixels and necessitates surveillance 24 hours per day, seven days per week at all parts of the premises. All recordings must be kept for at least 45 days.

“People have this image of Cheech and Chong running a mom and pop store all loosey-goosey and it’s not like that at all. It’s very tightly regulated and I wanted the challenge, so this is a great opportunity to jump into a lucrative profession,” Heany said.

The security requirements don’t seem to bother Heany. Keeping his product safe and away from potential prowlers is a top priority, so much so that he asked for the location of his business not to be named in this report.

“People have this misconception that if someone jumps the fence they can rip a plant out of the ground and then run away. We have some massive plants; we’re looking at six-inch stumps and cannabis is the strongest, most natural fiber in the world,” he said. “You’d have to jump the fence with a chainsaw, fire it up without getting noticed, and then see what kind of damage you can do, if you’re able, before we roll up on you.”

Then there is the actual growing and processing of the product. Heany plans on using carbon dioxide as a solvent in processing his pot and “tricking” his plants into growing during certain parts of the year by manipulating when they are exposed to light and dark, but that’s not how everyone does it.

Mark Zugsmith, owner of Pacific Overseas Tree Company, has been involved in the medical side of the business for about a year and a half and carries a medical marijuana card. His products, called Siddhi Tonics, use bhang, a cannabis tonic, and can be added to drinks, smoothies, or yogurt and are currently sold in about 20 dispensaries mostly in Seattle.

“We really see it as a wellness product,” Zugsmith said.

Siddhi Tonics also contains chicory root, maca, roasted dandelion root, roasted carob, barley, rye, and other herbs and spices. Zugsmith said it can be used to treat anxiety, pain, and a number of other issues users might suffer from but don’t want to take other drugs for.

The natural approach to treatment stems from Zugsmith’s own views, his time spent in India off and on for 22 years, and his appreciation of the Ayurveda, a system of traditional medicine originating in India from which he adopted his processing method.

“As part of that culture that I’ve lived around, cannabis is used in social as well as medicinal, spiritual, and meditative purposes,” Zugsmith said.

In keeping with that natural approach to life, Zugsmith’s processing technique uses only water as a solvent and does not employ the use of sugar or corn syrup. Ultimately, Pacific Overseas Tree Company, or “POT Company” as Zugsmith playfully calls it, aims to maintain the integrity of the plant.

“We’re not trying to only go for the THC, we’re trying to maintain all of the different molecules in the plant,” Zugsmith said. “Since the plant grew as a whole we see it all acting synergistically, so we’re not trying to rip through certain molecules and chuck out the rest. There’s a lot of science in extractions and in my process it’s old school science. I follow something that came out 5,000 years ago.”

Before the passage of I-502 Zugsmith’s company only processed marijuana for Siddhi Tonic, but once a license is obtained he plans on growing outside using only natural sunlight.

But when will licenses be ready? Neither Zugsmith nor Heany could give a hard-and-fast answer to when they might be able to really get their businesses going. I-502 requires all potential licensees to go through a final inspection to ensure that all portions of the law are met, but that’s not until the end of the licensing process.

In the meantime, Zugsmith, Heany, and all of the other marijuana processors, producers, and retailers across the state will just have to wait for their wave to come in and hope they catch it.

“Something major is going to come out of this and it’s either going to come out of Colorado or Washington because we’re going to be the ones who are leading the race,” Heany said.

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