Kennewick City Council member and Mayor Pro-Tem Steve Lee is proud to be the first legal cannabis business owner to be elected to public office “in the history of the world,” he said.
He won his first four-year term with a 14-point lead, and now he is running for re-election in the town he grew up in and still loves.
Lee and his wife Jessy Lee started offering medical cannabis in 2012 to area seniors, veterans and the terminally ill. After recreational legalization was approved they began selling adult-use and medical cannabis in the Tri-Cities.
His stores, called Green2Go, have created over 50 full-time jobs with full benefits. He has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the community, including paying delinquent food bills for families in a local school district or helping a community Renaissance Fair that ran short on funding.
For this re-election campaign, Lee and his team were mulling unique strategies.
Two things came to mind: NFTs, which are unique digital items that can be purchased with cryptocurrency, and an official cannabis strain.
The campaign team decided to start with the strain and then tackle the NFT later.
They selected Golden Leaf Farm, a Benton City producer/processor which said “heck yes” when asked, Lee said. Then, they had to pitch the idea to the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board and the Washington State Political and Disclosure Commission.
Lee said no one had ever asked about campaign cannabis, so both entities had to figure out the rules. He said the LCB doesn’t allow retailers to “white label” a product with another business name on it. For example, Green2Go wouldn’t be allowed to be on the pre-roll, since it’s not a processor and can’t own a processing facility. But there’s no rules about a political campaign putting words on a cannabis product such as “Steve for Kennewick.”
He said the PDC was fine as long as the joints were only available at licensed cannabis retailers and sold for the wholesale cost for the purpose of campaign finance law, and not a significantly high mark-up for purely fund-raising purposes.
Each joint wholesaled at $1.66 and was given an in-kind advertising value of the same. Since state rules require no single person or company to donate more than $1,000 to a given candidate in an election cycle, Golden Leaf Farm was allowed to make 625 Steve Lee joints for the August primary and another 625 for the general election in November.
Money made off the joints can’t directly go to Lee’s campaign, but he is legally allowed to fund his campaign with his own money.
Lee said the first batch had mostly sold out as of early July. He said it’s really good weed, a hybrid strain crossing Bruce Banner and No. 3 Viper Cookies strains.
Priced at $5 each, Lee said people have come from beyond Kennewick to get one for a souvenir or just to smoke.
So why would a successful entrepreneur want to go into politics?
Lee said it has been a lifetime dream to help his hometown. At age 9 he started by lobbying Congress to create peer mediation training, which he hoped would help kids to learn not to fight with each other. In the 8th or 9th grade he worked as a Senate page.
He said he is supported as someone who wants to “do good for the community.”
Rather than be labeled as conservative or liberal, he prefers calling himself a progressive capitalist.
Lee said the Tri-Cities is a very conservative area and he knows there are people who don’t like him or what he sells. But he said this campaign is really more about roads, schools, and good community rather than cannabis.
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