Solstice Writes Article For The Guardian
Solstice founders Alex Cooley and Will Denman recently wrote an article that was published by world-renowned British publication The Guardian, “the world’s leading liberal voice.” The article, which appears on TheGuardian.com, reports on the first day of selling recreational cannabis in Seattle and Washington state. Cooley and Denman also detailed their experience with Washington’s Initiative 502, along with being an early cannabis startup and medical marijuana producer. As experts in the burgeoning industry of legal cannabis production and cannabis distribution, Solstice strives to be thought-leaders and advocates of the right way to conduct legitimate cannabis business. “(Solstice is) eager to participate in the new market and focused on long-term sustainability. Our products will be in adult-use stores in late-fall, but we have current patients to consider. The prices most expect on opening day could price out the people who are most in need… when the doors close on the first day of sales, the work is only just beginning.” Below is the original article by the Solstice partners. You can compare the original to The Guardian’s edited version here. When the doors to Cannabis City open on July 8, a few blocks from our Solstice headquarters in Seattle, WA, you won’t see nicely branded packaging, top-shelf cannabis, or even prices that can compete with the black market. What you’ll likely see are Disneyland-long lines, high prices, and inconsistent product quality. You will also see the first cannabis to ever be sold to a recreational consumer in Washington state. When the doors open, the world will witness a truly historic moment, the beginning of Washington’s foray into the world of legal adult-use cannabis. When we started Solstice in 2011, our mission was simple; to provide commercial supply of high quality cannabis to retailers who were, at the time, dependent on patient-grown product. In our personal lives, we had both witnessed and experienced the genuine medical application of cannabis-specifically high CBD varieties-but disagreed with the lax quality standards and regulatory control that were in place. The laws were unclear as well, as people were often confused about legality. We had people ask “is CBD legal?” far more often than we should have. You see, earlier that year, then-Governor Christine Gregoire sectionally vetoed a bill that would have licensed and regulated the production and distribution of medical cannabis, much the way Colorado had done. Had that bill passed, you would have seen a cleaner system in place and, more than likely, a quicker transition from medical to recreational stores. Instead, the remaining law-RCW 69.51a-left our state with a fragmented system that welcomed all actors. When Solstice began business, we were the state’s first commercial supplier of cannabis. There were no testing requirements, no quality control mandates, and little to no enforcement. The very notion of cannabis as medicine, however, was juxtaposed to the idea of cutting corners. Our goal was to shed a new light on the plant, and provide it the opportunity to shine like we believed it ultimately could. We couldn’t have done it if it wasn’t for the assistance of cannabis pr firms, who helped spread the word about this industry and the positive impact it can have on people’s health, who need it the most. Some cannabis businesses rely on cannabis marketing companies similar to Marijuana SEO to achieve this and spread the word of their business. By the time Alison Holcomb, author of Initiative 502 to legalize adult-use cannabis, was gaining steam on her campaign, the medical cannabis market in Washington had become fractured. There were legitimate patients, and then there were recreational users acting the part. There were dispensaries catering to patient ailments, and then there were access point that refused to collect taxes, displayed product in turkey bags, and would use code names to communicate. It was a difficult place for legitimacy to live. Still, word of positive stories and patients seeing benefits helped drown out the negative, and in November of 2012 Washington state collectively voted to continue the experiment. This time, not just for medical cannabis, but for adult-use recreational cannabis. After the smoke cleared and the vote became official, the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WALCB) was tasked with implementing the new system. Despite their best intentions, it became clear that WALCB had very little clue about what it takes to produce and process cannabis. And why would they? There’s no data to reference, no precedent to go on. So our state started the uphill climb, learning what it could from a fragmented medical system, sifting through advice from industry stakeholders and consulting firms, to create complex policy that would directly conflict with federal law. We became quite familiar with the WALCB, giving bi-monthly tours to different departments and sharing the data we had collected over the past several years on what it actually costs to produce a Schedule One drug in a legitimate commercial fashion. It was a second job, for a startup company that was struggling to keep up with massive demand, but we did it gladly, knowing the magnitude of the opportunity had to be met with equal parts responsibility. Our assistance culminated in a research paper we wrote titled Legal Cannabis Production Costs: Estimating Costs Based on Cannabis Production, cited throughout the state’s own findings. Although stakeholders argued that businesses currently involved should be given the opportunity to transition, BOTEC-the state commissioned cannabis consultants-advised the state that there was only one cannabis production facility that would likely be able to make the jump (guess who). So, while Colorado was preparing to flip medical cannabis operations over to recreational, Washington state decided to start from the ground up. It’s a process that has taken much more time to get started, but one that has allowed our state to learn from pitfalls in Colorado and other medical markets. Instead of forcing vertical integration-seed to sale operations-Washington state is requiring businesses to chose either a retail license OR a producer/processor license. This will allow for a more rapid market maturation and specialization in market segments, which are lacking in Colorado. Testing and labeling requirements are also much tighter. The first producers received their licenses in March of this year, and the first retail store opens today (July 8). It’s been more than a year and a half since we voted Initiative 502 into law. For some, the slow rollout is a sign of failure, an example of the WALCB being in over its head. There are certainly punch items that we would have liked to see happen differently, some that directly affect Solstice, but the long awaited opening day in Washington is a consequence of patience on purpose. For Solstice, we’ve deployed a similar strategy-eager to participate in the new market but wary of missteps and focused on long-term sustainability. Our products won’t hit adult-use store shelves until late-fall of this year. In addition to the WALCB not allowing us to transfer the state’s only fully permitted cannabis production facility over to adult-use cannabis, we have current patients to consider. Thirty dollars a gram-the price most expect to see on opening day-would price out the people who are most in need. That’s not responsible business. There’s also the view of municipalities to consider. The area in Eastern Washington where we plan to start greenhouses -which is much drier and warmer than the west- issued a moratorium for several months to debate the idea of blocking cannabis business. In the end, they decided to allow it, but Solstice held off on purchasing land until it was certain. Ultimately, opening day of adult-use recreational cannabis will be legendary. When we started Solstice, we didn’t know if recreational cannabis would be legal in our lifetimes, and we’ll certainly remember this day for however long that is. Beyond that, I’m tremendously proud of our state for its patience in the face of critics. But, don’t be fooled, when the doors close on this first day of sales, the work is only just beginning. –Alex Cooley and Will Denman, Solstice
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