November 14, 2013 in City

Doug Clark: Weed Wagon generates buzz around Spokane

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Tyler Tjomsland photoBuy this photo

Spike Perkins, 23, a mechanic passing by, pulls out his cellphone to snap pictures as he checks out the Weed Wagon as it sits in front of The Spokesman-Review on Tuesday in Spokane.
(Full-size photo)

Cannabis is not normally associated with a word like “energy.”

It’s one of those oxymoronic contradictions in the nomenclature, as in military “intelligence,” say, or Spokane “strong” mayor.

Yet Cannabis Energy Drink is as real as Reardan, my friends, and Doug Burke has the budding profits to prove it.

I was discussing this cannabis conundrum Tuesday afternoon with Burke while riding shotgun through downtown Spokane in his wacky Weed Wagon.

The Weed Wagon (my nickname for it) is a chopped-and-lowered ’67 Volkswagen “squareback.”

That’d be kooky enough. But this baby has been wrapped with an artsy jungle of green marijuana leaves and the logo of the aforementioned drink that Burke makes bank on.

Burke, 57, is clean-cut and well groomed. This husband and father of three could pass for a Presbyterian deacon rather than a purveyor of soda pot.

But as Burke must regularly affirm to his growing clientele, Cannabis Energy Drink contains none of the buzz-producing THC that has made Grateful Dead music and Zig-Zag rolling papers part of the culture.

If the drink did contain THC, it would have to be renamed “Mountain Doobie,” one of my clever editors noted.

Or Kush-a-Cola, perhaps.

The point being that Cannabis Energy Drink is essentially Red Bull with a harmless dab of hemp seed extract.

Burke picked me up outside The Spokesman-Review, where his Weed Wagon immediately attracted some sidewalk cellphone paparazzi.

This phenomenon, as I would soon learn, happens wherever the Weed Wagon goes.

The car isn’t the definition of user-friendly. Squeezing my tonnage into such a cramped interior was no easy rider.

“This is like birth in reverse,” I groused, struggling to pull my legs inside.

“It is a Volkswagen,” Burke replied, laughing as we rattled east on Riverside Avenue.

There was a time not so long ago when cruising Spokane in such a Cheech-and-Chonged-out vehicle (or Rogen-and-Francoed, for the youth of today) would have been an instant invitation for a traffic stop from Johnny Law.

That was then.

Marijuana has been legalized in Washington and Colorado. Well more than half the country now thinks pot legalization is a fine idea, according to a recent Gallup poll.

Cannabis Energy Drink is just the latest sign of these high times.

We stopped at a red light near Macy’s. A dowdy, middle-aged woman sat behind the wheel of the SUV next to us. She turned, gazed at the Weed Wagon, and then flashed us a thumb’s up and a wide grin. Go figure.

Burke refers to his association with Cannabis Energy Drink as a pure “stroke of luck,” but that’s a bit of an exaggeration.

Burke, after all, runs Burke Distributing, a business that his father, William, started back in 1961.

With a warehouse near Spokane Community College, the company stocks quickie marts, supermarkets and bars with those munchies we Americans can’t seem to survive without: beef jerky, candy bars, Red Vines, chocolate, popcorn, bubblegum, Sugar Daddys …

All those little sales add up. Burke said his business boasts a dozen employees and pulled in $18 million last year.

I’m adding this so you’ll realize that Burke was in a position to act on that lucky stroke last June when some of his customers asked if he had any Cannabis Energy Drink.

Burke had never heard of the stuff. But he soon learned that there was a local supplier who was having trouble filling accounts.

Burke stepped in. He made a deal to unload the product. And sold 150 cases in one day.

He arranged to have the company (it’s headquartered in Amsterdam, surprise, surprise) send him 12 pallets of the stuff. They instead sent Burke 20 pallets, or 170,000 cans.

They flew off the shelves.

“I’ve never had anything this fun take off this fast,” said Burke, who is now the proud Cannabis Energy Drink distributor for Washington, Idaho, Montana and Oregon.

Duuude, where’s my energy drink?

A can of Cannabis, by the way, retails for around $1.99, or sometimes two for $4.20.*

(*Don’t get the joke? Ask the nearest teenager.)

So far, the area’s large grocery stores have shied away from Cannabis Energy Drink as too controversial. Burke, however, believes time and our changing culture are on his side.

Truth be told, I’ve never had much of a taste for energy drinks. But I took some sips of Cannabis, which comes in regular, diet and mango.

It was no match for the Clark beverage of choice, Diet 7Up. But to be fair, I found it tangy and quite drinkable.

Marketing being the conjoined twin of sales, wrapping vehicles with advertising was a no-brainer.

Brandon Donahue, Burke’s nephew and business partner, located the mutant V-Dub in Lewiston for $4,200.

Soon, the Weed Wagon was born.

“If you want to be noticed, you want to be in this car,” Burke said as we pulled into a loaded – I mean loading – zone in front of the Spokane County Courthouse.

When Burke asked me where I wanted to go to give away samples, the courthouse came immediately to mind due to its human stew of law enforcers and law abiders, and lowlifes like lawbreakers and even lawyers.

And sure enough, a highly eclectic crowd began to gather moments after we parked.

Burke’s offer of “free samples” made him as popular as the pope handing out wafers.

A woman who swore her name was Betty Boop gave her phone to me. Would I snap a photograph of her with the Weed Wagon?

Can do. I’m always ready to serve the reading public.

“Doesn’t have any THC in it, does it?” asked a longhaired earthy guy who seemed truly saddened to hear the answer.

Burke said he sent a text message to the sheriff’s department awhile back saying that if you happen to see the Weed Wagon running around, please understand: “I’m not selling pot.”

Even so, there’s a case to be made about the negative nature of a product that uses marijuana as a gimmick for selling what amounts to a soft drink.

Point taken. And it’s not a bad argument. But we are living a different world now.

Like it or not, this is the dawning of the Age of Acannabis.

And as for Doug Burke, well, he’s chuckling all the way to you know where.

“I’m having a blast,” he said. “They call me Mr. Cannabis.”

Doug Clarkcan be reached at (509) 459-5432 or dougc@spokesman.com.

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