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State gives first recreational marijuana license to Spokane man

Sean Green displays his new marijuana growing license Wednesday in Olympia. (Associated Press)
Sean Green displays his new marijuana growing license Wednesday in Olympia. (Associated Press)

OLYMPIA – Sean Green’s big plans for a nationwide manufacturing and sales empire got a boost Wednesday when the Spokane native received Washington’s first license to grow legal marijuana.

Green, who operates medical marijuana dispensaries in Spokane and Shoreline, Wash., will begin growing recreational marijuana today in a facility at 1919 E. Francis Ave.

The former real estate appraiser got into the medical marijuana business after the housing market crashed. On Wednesday, the state Liquor Control Board said Green did the best job of some 4,700 applications from would-be pot entrepreneurs at filling out forms, passing inspections and otherwise meeting requirements for a license to grow and process marijuana. The board awarded him the first license issued under Initiative 502 in a ceremony that was part patriotic oration and part chamber-of-commerce pep talk.

“Freedom is what brought us here today,” Green told a packed hearing room and a half-dozen television cameras. “This program is a testament to what we can achieve in our country if we are persistent enough … Cannabis prohibition is over.”

He went through a list of people who have contacted him looking for a job. “I’m coming home with jobs, Spokane,” he said, showing off his license. Growing marijuana is labor intensive because the plants require constant care and hand trimming, he later explained.

There were some obligatory marijuana jokes: The back of the license does not say Zig Zag, liquor board member Chris Marr quipped. Green said he had no plans to roll that piece of paper up with the product in it.

There were some questions about Chairwoman Sharon Foster’s statement that the board was proud to give its first license to Green, based on the fact that his medical marijuana business prompted a couple of worker complaints to the state. Agency Director Rick Garza said Green passed the Washington State Patrol criminal investigation all applicants must pass, but there’s no check of business complaints. It’s a process similar to issuing a liquor license, he added.

“I won’t be addressing that today,” Green said later when asked about the complaints, although a spokesman said they were from a disgruntled employee and were quickly resolved.

Green, who grew up on the South Hill and graduated from Lewis and Clark High School in 2000, said he got into the medical marijuana business in 2011 when the opportunity “landed in my lap.” He’d been a self-employed real estate appraiser for about 10 years, but when the recession hit, no one could get a loan to buy a house, so no one needed appraisals. He couldn’t find another job but read about legislation that required medical marijuana producers and dispensaries to be licensed by the state by May 1, 2011.

He filed Pacific Northwest Medical with the secretary of state and started his operation with $10,000 and “a couple of grow lights.” He opened his first medical marijuana dispensary in Shoreline at a time when federal drug agents were raiding dispensaries in Spokane, but he later opened a second dispensary and grow operation on East Houston Avenue. Eventually, he dreamed of growing into a nationwide chain of marijuana production facilities, processing plants and stores.

Kouchlock Productions, his recreational marijuana business, is separate from the dispensaries, although his first plants for the 21,000-square-foot East Francis production facility will come from his medical marijuana stock. They’ll mature in about eight weeks, and his license allows him to process the marijuana into retail products. He plans to develop pot-infused candies and “a more potent joint.” Under state regulations, as a grower and processor he can’t hold a retail license.

One of the biggest challenges for a marijuana business is finding a bank to handle its accounts, Green said. Kouchlock built the East Francis facility for about $6 million without a loan, but the company has had its account closed by six banks when management decides it doesn’t want to do business with a marijuana company.

The Liquor Board expects to approve two or three more producer licenses this week with less fanfare, and a few each week as staff finishes reviewing documents and inspecting business locations. It may have a similar rollout of licenses for recreational marijuana stores, starting in late June, which means it could be months before the state’s 334 retail licenses are issued and all stores are opened.

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