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Aspiring marijuana retailers will soon learn whether they've landed a coveted license to sell pot legally in Washington. And growers are already hard at work to make sure there'll be plenty of product as soon as possible.
At a non-descript warehouse at the foot of Seattle's Magnolia bluff, thousands of marijuana plants in various states of growth rise up towards the artificial light moving on tracks above.
Sea of Green Farms was among the first to be granted a license to grow and process marijuana when the state began issuing licenses in March. It was the culmination of a year of work for partners Phillip Tobias and Bob Leeds, co-founders of the growing venture (pun intended).
"We tried to anticipate what the state would ask for," he says of their preparation. "We got together a partnership, a business plan and got a piece of property, then made sure we were ready," says Leeds.
As soon as they got the go-ahead, Leeds and his partners jumped into action.
"We took an existing warehouse that was just a big vacant building and have divided it up into mother rooms, cloning rooms, foliage rooms and flowering rooms," he says.
They got the indoor farm started with about 100 mother plants they bought from a supplier. Offshoots are then cut from those plants and grown in a separate room in a special liquid solution. In addition, they bought about 2,000 seeds from all over.
In several other rooms just down the hall, about 2,500 plants are currently in the flowering stage. The growers bombard them with artificial sunlight for 12 hours a day, then alternate with 12 hours of darkness to maximize their growth. Their first harvest is about three weeks away.
"Everyday I come in and look at the plants and they've all grown two to three inches overnight. It's just amazing," Leeds says.
It's a far cry from simply planting a seed or cutting and leaving it alone. Senior Grower Mike Thrapp and the partners meticulously monitor and adjust everything from temperature and humidity to carbon dioxide levels to maintain the perfect growing conditions. From clone to harvest takes about 90 days.
The farm is currently growing 72 different strains or varieties, all with different properties and potencies. Leeds says they hope to produce about 50 pounds of finished marijuana bud from their first harvest, then ramp up to as much as 100 pounds every three weeks. With high quality marijuana selling for $8 per gram or more, Leeds admits they have high hopes for big returns.
"We are ready to go. We'll be happy to make some money instead of paying it out all the time," he laughs.
Finding buyers won't be a problem. Leeds says he's been inundated with inquiries from prospective retailers.
"They're lining up at the door. All they need to do now is have licenses in hand. Some of them have already made contracts with us to buy our products."
The state is currently conducting the first-ever lottery for retail licenses this week. It will begin notifying winners in the next week and release the names of the 334 successful applicants on May 2. Officials will then conduct extensive criminal background checks before allowing a retailer to open. The state expects the first pot shops to begin operations in July.
Leeds predicts with so few growers currently licensed, there will likely be a shortage at first until he and others can ramp up production. Growers in Colorado completely sold out within three days after legal sales began there, Leeds says.
Along with all of the challenges of growing their new cash crop, the partners also face a mountain of bureaucracy. The strict new state rules require them to assign a bar code to every single plant and keep a detailed inventory of everything. And if they're tempted to sample their goods, the state limits them to just two grams for each strain from each harvest for quality control. With so much invested, the partners say they aren't about to risk their business to do anything outside the law.
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