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Plan by state cannabis board employee to lease land near Deer Park for marijuana facility withdrawn

UPDATED: Wed., April 26, 2017

A budding stalk of a marijuana plant nears maturity in an outdoor grow near Deer Park, Washington, Monday, Oct. 5, 2015. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
A budding stalk of a marijuana plant nears maturity in an outdoor grow near Deer Park, Washington, Monday, Oct. 5, 2015. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

A businessman has formally withdrawn his application to build a marijuana growing and processing facility in Deer Park, prompting cheers from neighbors who had opposed the project.

The state Liquor and Cannabis Board previously suspended a separate application process after it was revealed that the owner of the Deer Park property is also an employee of the agency – an apparent conflict of interest prohibited under state law.

Grant Bulski, a marijuana licensing specialist, was leasing the 25-acre parcel to Jeff Montgomery, a former Hollywood producer who broke into Washington’s pot industry several years ago. He owns a marijuana company called Farmers Distributors.

In a phone call Tuesday, Montgomery said he withdrew the application for a Stevens County building permit primarily because of the backlash from neighbors who feared that the pot farm would impact their water supplies and property values, among other concerns.

“We’re now on the hunt for a new location where we’ll be more embraced by the community,” Montgomery said.

Bulski purchased the land, at 6351 W. Whitmore Hill Road, in 2007 after starting a job overseeing liquor stores in Eastern Washington. He lived there until 2012, when the Liquor and Cannabis Board, then called the Liquor Control Board, eliminated his position and transferred him to Olympia.

Montgomery, who previously co-owned a growing operation in Tacoma, said Bulski was offering to sell the Deer Park land on Craigslist in September.

Aware that dealing with a marijuana grower could present a conflict of interest, Bulski consulted with Kate Reynolds, the director of the state Executive Ethics Board, in early October.

Bulski told Reynolds he had discussed the issue with his supervisor and would have no role in processing the pot-growing application or enforcing the operation. He also said he planned to sell, not lease, the property.

“I am selling the property at listing price and using an attorney for this transaction and I will not have any involvement with the applicant/licensee,” Bulski told Reynolds in an email. “In fact I have been dealing with an agent on behalf of the applicant/licensee and not the licensee himself.”

Reynolds said she gave Bulski informal advice on how to navigate the sale.

“Leasing would probably change my analysis,” she said. “It’s a very different transaction.”

Less than three weeks after speaking with Reynolds, Bulski signed a lease agreement with Montgomery for $2,834 a month.

“We decided at a board meeting we were better off leasing it, in case something was wrong with the land,” Montgomery said.

Bulski did hire an attorney to draft the lease agreement, but Montgomery said he never spoke with the attorney.

“I spoke with (Bulski) directly,” Montgomery said.

A spokesman for the Liquor and Cannabis Board said Tuesday that the agency still is investigating the situation.

Washington law states that “no employee of the state liquor and cannabis board shall have any interest, directly or indirectly, in the producing, processing, or sale of marijuana.”

The Deer Park plans were not the first time Montgomery and Bulski had crossed paths. Last summer, in his role as a licensing specialist, Bulski oversaw the sale of Montgomery’s pot farm in Tacoma.

A former associate of Montgomery’s, Jonathan Carfield, said he was treated unfairly in that deal.

“We financed and operated that entire business, and (Montgomery) removed us from that LCB license and sold it to a third party without our knowledge,” said Carfield, who owns a separate cannabis company in Seattle. “I lost a lot of money on it, but I just walked away from it because I kept emailing the LCB and they weren’t being very helpful. They just told me it was a civil matter.”

The Liquor and Cannabis Board employee who responded to Carfield’s emails was Grant Bulski.

Montgomery disputed several of Carfield’s claims but acknowledged their business dealings were contentious.

Montgomery is a former chief executive of Harvey Entertainment Co., the creators of the movie “Richie Rich,” starring Macaulay Culkin. Montgomery bought Harvey Comics in 1989, when he was 25, built a profitable business empire and was ousted in 1998. He now splits his time between Seattle and California.

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