Different-sized jars for medical marijuana at Green Ambrosia. Photo by Ellena Bowen
Different-sized jars for medical marijuana at Green Ambrosia. Photo by Ellena Bowen
Walking into Green Ambrosia, a medical marijuana co-op on 15th Avenue Northwest in Ballard, I’m greeted by a receptionist who hands me a large, white sticker with “press” in all caps.

As I wait to speak with Dante Jones, founder of Green Ambrosia, I soak in my surroundings. The space is large: The building once housed one of the state’s former liquor stores. It feels tranquil, with soft-colored paint on the walls and bamboo plants lining the entrance.

When Jones comes out to meet me I’m impressed by his approachable yet professional manner. I ask what inspired him to get involved in the medical marijuana community.
“I was in a car accident about five years ago,” Jones said. He had always struggled with joint hypermobility, a condition that causes joints to stretch farther than usual. The accident exacerbated the symptoms, and today he still struggles with them. People with joint hypermobility are more prone to sprains, dislocations and early onset osteoarthritis. “I lost basically all my strength, so I’ve been repairing my body,” Jones said. “And marijuana has been the key to me building my core, building my muscles and changing how I walk and move.”

The future of medical marijuana in Washington state is uncertain. The rules for retail sales under Initiative 502 are still being drafted.

The Washington State Liquor Control Board is holding public forums across the state to hear residents’ concerns and ideas. Public hearings are tentatively scheduled through the end of May.

“The forums have been just packed with a lot of people asking questions,” Jones said. “And a lot of times, the questions they’re asking, the Liquor Board doesn’t know. So they’re only supposing what they think might be the answer — which is good to hear but, at the same time, isn’t quite the answer yet.”

Jones attended an event at the Washington Athletic Club in January, where he heard Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and state Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland) speak about the ongoing process.

“We talked to them about important subjects like would they sue to protect I-502 being implemented — the retailers, the licensees — who put themselves into their system,” Jones said, “and they said yes.… So that was really heartening.”

Jones is open to the idea of Green Ambrosia becoming a retail space, depending on how the laws play out.

“If I was on the sidelines right now, I’d probably wait until rules are written by the Liquor Control Board before I jumped in,” Jones said. “But, at the same time, we’ve been in business serving the medical community, which we enjoy so much. So for us, that’s why we’re doing it, so we want to keep doing that, as well.”

A competitive market
Not everyone is confident marijuana legalization in Washington will swing in favor of marijuana producers and retailers.

“Yes, the people did vote,” said Derrick Ming, a co-director of the Humanity Collective. “And it is the people’s choice in that state, but for the feds to actually say, ‘You’ve got our blessing,’ would be a totally wrong message to the other states.”

Ming says his co-op, which provides organic medical marijuana grown indoors, isn’t interested in retail sales.

“We are strictly medical,” Ming said. “Our objective in this business is to really get these meds to people that really need them.

“No one really gets rich off this business,” he added. “When you grow, there’s always something that’s going to pop up. That’s why there’s not so many good growers because there’s always something that needs to be addressed that’s gonna cost more money.”
Lisa Dank, media coordinator at North Seattle Medical Collective, said, “There will be some conglomerate grow operations that are funded by the state and monitored. And with that, I expect it to be just average quality, because growing plants is a full-time job, and they are so temperamental. I can’t even imagine what a state-run grow operation would look like and how they could ensure quality across the board.”

Many in the medical-marijuana community fear that retail and medical marijuana may not be able to coexist.

“My instinct tells me that shortly after I-502 goes into implementation, the DEA will come back in and crush all medical marijuana,” Jones said. “I have a feeling that they don’t want two competing markets, and so they want to only let the legalized market go forward.”

Dank suspects a similar outcome.
“They’re going to really start cracking down on medical, making it hard for us,” Dank said. “Because it does impede on the state’s guaranteed monopoly, and all those prospective figures that they swayed voters with are based on pretty much 100-percent cash flow and control of the market, when really that’s not the case.”

Some dispensaries in the area are preparing for the prospect of retail sales.
“It really just depends on what happens,” Dank said. “Everybody’s just waiting to see what they’re gonna do — ourselves included. Because we’d like to go forward, and make progress, and be a leader as we try to be in the medical community, and take that to the non-patient community.”

Green Ambrosia hasn’t put up its official sign outside yet. Jones said he isn’t in a rush to get it made.

“You’re not gonna see large signs on buildings anymore,” Jones said. “I-502 specifically states 16 square inches, which is about 4 feet by 4 feet — it’s not that big at all.… I-502 had made it clear that they’re not important.”

Another consideration that prospective retailers must take into account is location. The city’s Department of Planning and Development released a map earlier this year that indicates where marijuana businesses could potentially be allowed. Because of I-502’s ban on marijuana retail storefronts within 1,000 feet of the perimeter of some properties, including schools and parks, the areas are small.

Jones admitted, “Looking at the surrounding areas and what was around us was a big part of finding our place.”

Changes in the law could affect the current system in many ways.

“Even though we’re not-for-profit, we have to charge tax,” Dank said. “It goes to the city, but we’re not allowed to deduct any business expenses or even standard operating expenses, that maybe perhaps another nonprofit would be, specifically because we are medical. Things like that, you don’t realize it, but it really can cut into operations budgets.”

Medical-marijuana pharmacy directors are considering what benefits marijuana providers could stand to receive by adding retail sales.

“It’s pretty frustrating, because it’s pretty much a double standard,” Dank said. “We play along, but we don’t get to deduct those expenses, we don’t get insurance, we don’t get the same kind of protection. If the state could offer that, that would be a real fire under our seats to get going because then it would be safe for investments.”

Profits, not patients
The onset of I-502 could mean many things for our state. The future of access, the black market and federal prosecution is still very much in the air. Medical-marijuana providers are pushing for the therapeutic properties of marijuana to be respected.

“Patients…come from every walk of life,” Jones said. “People think about kid stoners, but it’s not. It’s a lot of adults; it’s a lot of people who are looking to fix the aches and pains that life has given them.”

Ming emphasized that Humanity Collective is doing a medical service for its patients.
“Today, they’re going to be happy,” Ming said. “To say they’re gonna be pain-free, no. But this type of medication really makes them in better spirits.”

“We’re their caretakers; we’re their providers, in a sense,” Dank said. “A lot of people don’t have anybody, so they come to us. So, you know, we just want to see that same kind of care and concern carry over. But, ultimately, [I-502] is not for patients — it’s for profits.”

The Washington State Liquor Control Board lists early June as the time when marijuana-producer rules will become effective on its tentative timeline at liq.wa.gov/marijuana/proposed-producer-rules.

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