OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington state issued its first legal marijuana business license Wednesday, launching a new phase in the state's ambitious effort to regulate a market that has been illegal for more than 75 years.
Sean Green, who has operated medical marijuana dispensaries in Spokane and the Seattle suburb of Shoreline, proclaimed the document "beautiful" as it was handed to him at the state Liquor Control Board's meeting in Olympia.
The license will allow him to grow 21,000 square feet of cannabis at his Spokane facility — the first pot that will be grown for sale under the highly taxed system approved by voters in 2012.
"Cannabis prohibition is over," Green declared to applause from a room packed with his supporters. "I'm coming home with jobs, Spokane."
Sales began Jan. 1 in Colorado, the only other state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana by adults over 21. But Colorado already had a regulated medical marijuana system and simply began by allowing medical dispensaries to sell recreational pot; Washington had no regulated medical system, and had to start from the ground up.
Washington's first pot shop is expected to open in June or July. The board expects to issue 334 retail licenses statewide.
Green is chief executive of Spokane's Kouchlock Productions, a company named for the phenomenon of being too stoned to get off the couch. The board's three members credited the hard work he did to meet all the requirements to obtain a license, including passing criminal and financial background checks, developing a board-approved business plan and finding a location that wasn't too close to schools or daycares.
"We're proud of you," board chairwoman Sharon Foster said. "We now know there are folks out there who follow the rules and are willing to be participants of this brave new venture in Washington state."
But even the issuance of the first license underscored the hurdles the industry continues to face. Pot remains illegal under federal law, and despite recent guidance from the U.S. Treasury and Justice Departments, banks continue to be wary of doing business with marijuana businesses.
Just last week, Green said, he learned his bank was closing his account because of Kouchlock's connection to marijuana.