Tour A State Permitted-Medical Marijuana Grow

Jan 3, 2014

Workers at Solstice, a medical marijuana facility in Seattle's Sodo neighborhood, trim raw, dried buds.
Workers at Solstice, a medical marijuana facility in Seattle's Sodo neighborhood, trim raw, dried buds.
Credit KUOW Photo/Ross Reynolds

At Solstice, a nondescript warehouse in Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood, four people in white lab coats sit at tables in a brightly lit room.

Their task, for which they earn at least $12 an hour: Trim raw, dried marijuana buds to make them higher quality and visually appealing for the customer.

KUOW's Ross Reynolds toured Solstice, a medical marijuana dispensary that has applied to distribute recreational marijuana. There, he met Sherman the dog (not a security dog, mind you, but an “aggressively friendly,” good vibe dog) and caught a glimpse of the warehouse’s “safe room,” which requires fingerprint access.

The Washington Liquor Control Board is currently sorting through nearly 5,000 applications to grow, process and sell cannabis. Five of those applications are from Solstice, the which is already fully permitted by the state as a medical marijuana grow.

Three of Solstice’s applications are to open large processing plants in the Kittitas Valley in central Washington and two are for processing licenses in Seattle. The company expects to be licensed in about a month after the final inspection.

Trimming marijuana buds and rolling joints for Solstice in Seattle's Sodo neighborhood.
Trimming marijuana buds and rolling joints for Solstice in Seattle's Sodo neighborhood.
Credit KUOW Photo/Ross Reynolds

The Sodo facility, however will not transition to include recreational marijuana because that would require they shut the premises for six months without revenue.

Solstice will process three products at first: Premium raw flower cannabis, pre-rolled joints and several varieties of cannabis capsules. Those are stored in the safe room.

The facility, which is within sight of Starbucks’ headquarters and near the stadiums, is private by design. There are bars on the front doors, and the address isn’t given out readily.

“There have been people who have been murdered for cannabis, and I don’t want to be murdered,” Alex Cooley, vice president of Solstice, said, laughing a little. Before Solstice, Cooley had been pursuing a career in teaching, but a hiring freeze in Seattle Public Schools dashed those dreams. Now he has a green smudge tattooed onto his thumb pad -- symbolizing his "green thumb." 

Cooley said that security increases the deeper one ventures into the 15,000 square foot warehouse. Nine thousand feet are dedicated to plant cultivation.

Outside, smells don’t give away the facility. There’s a charcoal filtration system, Cooley said, to dissipate odors. That’s more for the neighbors than for security, however.

Alex Cooley, vice president of Solstice, the state's only fully permitted medical marijuana facility, shows off his "green thumb" tattoo.
Alex Cooley, vice president of Solstice, the state's only fully permitted medical marijuana facility, shows off his "green thumb" tattoo.
Credit KUOW Photo/Ross Reynolds

Not that the neighbors aren’t aware. In fact, one neighbor is battling cancer, and Solstice is helping her, Cooley said.

Back in the room with men in lab coats, rolled joined and delicately trimmed marijuana were prepped to be cured for two to three weeks and then packaged in nitrogen and sent out. Packaged marijuana can last up to a year.  

Cooley, who is also chair of the Coalition for Cannabis Standards and Ethics, believes marijuana legalization will work in Washington state, but he believes the law is unnecessarily restrictive.

Rules prevent marijuana from being processed and sold within a thousand feet of schools, transit centers, parks and libraries. Cooley said that means cannabis in Seattle will likely be clustered in certain neighborhoods.

“You’re going to have cannabis deserts, neighborhoods that can’t comply,” he said. “Capitol Hill is a perfect example. Many people consume cannabis but there’s not going to be a place for them to get cannabis. And it can’t be delivered to them. So the black market is going to supply that neighborhood.”

The 15,000-square-foot facility at Sodo includes 9,000 square feet for marijuana plant cultivation.
The 15,000-square-foot facility at Sodo includes 9,000 square feet for marijuana plant cultivation.
Credit KUOW Photo/Ross Reynolds

Cooley said that clusters of dispensaries will form in Rainier, Sodo, where Solstice is located, and the area around North 145th and Highway 99.

“No one likes that, no one is a fan of that,” he said.