by: Graham Johnson Updated:
SEATTLE - It isn't easy being legitimate. That's the experience of Solstice, a company that grows medical marijuana in Seattle's SODO neighborhood for local dispensaries.
Co-founder Alex Cooley says his company has the first fully-permitted marijuana grow in the city, and probably the state. Cooley began the permit process last year, before voters legalized recreational pot, and when the city was just starting to consider rules for marijuana zoning, a process that's still unfinished. Cooley could have joined what he estimates are dozens of unpermitted grow operations in Seattle, but instead set a goal of building "a state-of-the-art medical cannabis cultivation facility that was completely to code, that was above board and was as legitimate as possible," he said.
His company first approached the city's Department of Planning and Development in June 2012 about the 9,100-square-foot facility. "When we went in we didn't really understand what we were getting into and we didn't understand we were the first to do it," Cooley said. It took three months to be designated a vertical farm, an obscure provision in the land use code. Bringing the 1927 building up to current energy code took another six months. The city required a number of upgrades, including insulating much of the building for nearly $100,000. Cooley says many city employees were supportive, but not all. "We failed multiple inspections because the inspectors absolutely disagreed with what we were doing," he said.
Finally, Solstice opened the grow operation in March. Cooley says because he has been through the process once, it will be easier for the next marijuana business that applies to the city. But the Department of Planning and Development says, so far, no one else has expressed interest.
Marijuana zoning of both medical and recreational businesses is still being considered by the city council. It has been delayed several weeks this summer in part because the state is finalizing rules for implementing legal recreational marijuana, authorized by voters in November through Initiative 502. Cooley hopes once Seattle establishes zoning rules, city regulators will help his unpermitted competitors comply with city code.