4/20 is for stoners. For providers of medicinal marijuana on Capitol Hill, 4/21 is a much more important date.
“We’ve always operated under the limits and for the long haul,” BOTH Collective’s Corey Bessette said. “I’m a true believer.”
Bessette and Brittany St. Julien run 10th Ave’s BOTH which has operated just down the street from Neumos for a little over a year now after a short stint in Ballard. It’s been a long, strange year for BOTH and Cass Stewart who operates The Apothecary on Broadway. The status of medicinal marijuana in the city of Seattle is as hazy as ever.
“Not much has changed for us,” Stewart says about his first year running a cannabis dispensary on one of the busiest streets in the city. “We’ve been transparent and they definitely know we’re here.”
*They *would be the authorities, national and civic, who continue to dance a fine line in Seattle where federal laws still criminalize an activity local law enforcement care less and less about and the city now regulates. Last summer, Seattle passed legislation requiring dispensaries to obtain business licenses and abide by building and health codes.
The year also brought fair warning to anybody looking at the Seattle cannabis dispensary space as a way to skirt the law. A wave of federal raids on Puget Sound area dispensaries netted one facility at 23rd and Madison. Stewart says the message is clear — stay cool, stay small, stay medicinal. Bessette said the raid also lent credence to his conservative approach to running a dispensary business. Meanwhile, there are other providers keeping a low profile on the Hill and others that have gone out of business.
Make no mistake — Capitol Hill’s remaining dispensaries are operated as non-profits and take on clinical terms like “medicine” and calling customers “patients,” but they are also operated as businesses with bottom lines and situations familiar to any entrepreneur.
“We’ve grown,” Bessette said. “We’ve hired on five different people in the last year.” Bessette says the typical BOTH member might spend around $80 a week on cannabis and that they currently see around 50 people a day come through their lower level 10th Ave facility.
Stewart calls the people behind Seattle’s dispensaries the “potrepreneurs.” St. Julien and Bessette refer to their counter employees as “budtistas.” There’s a bit of the coffee business to it all. You might imagine these current dispensaries as the early Caffe Vitas or Vivaces of the space. If Initiative 502 — the so-called “marijuana reform” initiative — passes, Bessette predicts a world where you can buy a joint at QFC or Starbucks but ”BOTH would survive and provide better [cannabis],” he said.
Stewart declined to comment on I-502 but did say he was concerned about the “fractured community” the debate over the initiative has caused in the dispensary community. Regardless of its fate, he thinks The Apothecary can continue to grow and possibly be part of similar efforts in other areas of the city. He sees the current state of things as ripe for change.
“We’re the new gay,” Stewart said of pot-smoking acceptance. ”It’s like coming out. It’s a big moment for people.”
That “big moment” has also come for Stewart as he is also now “out” to family and friends. That means taking some ribbing from an uncle when he brings cupcakes to Easter. Stewart has found the opportunity to meld his business with his cause. He’s invested more in building out The Apothecary space on the upper level above the Castle store next to the Highline.
They’re also hoping to invest more and improve their home at BOTH. “People choose a place for the environment and better medication,” St. Julien said. Bessette and St. Julien said demographics also matter though their customers range in age from 18 to 80.
To purchase cannabis, members must still have an authorization card from a provider certifying the holder has “qualifying conditions” as laid out in RCW 69.51a. Bessette said that one of the biggest changes of the past year has been the increase in the number of members coming in with authorizations from primary care providers and big health care facilities. Another change? The price of cannabis. Bessette said prices have plummeted more than 15% from when BOTH opened last spring.