Plans to build a marijuana growing and processing facility near Deer Park have been stalled amid outcry from neighbors.
That’s because the man who owns the proposed building site also works in the licensing division of the state agency that regulates pot – a possible violation of state laws that prohibit public employees from having a financial stake in their work.
Grant Bulski has worked for Washington’s Liquor and Cannabis Board since 2006, when it was called the Liquor Control Board, according to his LinkedIn page. Since 2012, he has managed the agency’s education and outreach program in Olympia.
The Liquor and Cannabis Board began investigating Bulski’s business ties after a Spokesman-Review reporter inquired about his apparent conflict of interest on Wednesday.
“We are handling this now as a formal personnel investigation,” Brian Smith, the agency’s communication director, wrote in an email Thursday. “The investigation began yesterday and is not expected to be lengthy.”
Smith also said the state application for the Deer Park marijuana facility has been placed on hold pending the outcome of the investigation.
Neighbors and other critics of the proposed facility, which would occupy a 25-acre parcel at 6351 Whitmore Hill Road, have been livid since learning about the project several weeks ago.
During a community meeting that lasted more than two hours Wednesday evening, more than 80 residents filled the auditorium of Lakeside Middle School to voice their frustration to Stevens County officials.
Many residents grilled Commissioner Wes McCart, Sheriff Kendle Allen and land services director Erik Johansen, asserting they weren’t granted enough opportunities to weigh in during the application process for the proposed marijuana facility. Some worried about the impact the facility might have on their property values and water supplies.
McCart, a Republican, explained that local officials must base any decisions on state law and existing county ordinances. Both the county and the Liquor and Cannabis Board must issue permits for marijuana operations.
“The applicants have civil rights and, quite frankly, I have to protect them as much as I protect yours,” he told the crowd in the auditorium. “If you built a new front porch and all of a sudden your neighbors came out and said, ‘We don’t want that there,’ you would expect me, as your commissioner, to protect your right to build that porch.”
Then one man raised the question of who owns the pot-growing property.
If it’s an employee of the Liquor and Cannabis Board, McCart said in response, “I believe it’s a conflict of interest – absolutely.”
Bulski and his wife signed a lease agreement in October with a company called Farmers Distributors, which submitted a proposal to build two 24,000-square-foot greenhouses and a smaller pole building for processing marijuana plants.
The company, owned by a Tacoma man named Jeff Montgomery, agreed to pay the Bulskis $2,834 a month starting in November, according to a copy of the lease agreement provided by the Liquor and Cannabis Board.
It’s not clear how the agency overlooked Bulski’s name in that document.
Attempts to contact Bulski and Montgomery on Thursday were unsuccessful. Brad Ellis, who lives on the property and listed himself as a Farmers Distributors manager in county paperwork, answered a phone call but gave little information.
A neighbor, Mark Sevy, said Bulski lived on the property for a number of years after purchasing it in 2007. Bulski’s LinkedIn page says he joined the Liquor Control Board the previous year as a district manager for Eastern Washington.
After moving to the West Side, Bulski tried unsuccessfully to sell the property, Sevy said.
He and others are outraged by the unraveling situation.
“This is not a question of whether you approve of using marijuana or not,” said Serena Miller, a music teacher who lives about 2 miles north of the proposed facility.
Bulski, she said, “should have never rented his property to a growing operation. It’s not an honest way to do business. This is something shady going on.”