As we head into Independence Day weekend 2022, the freedom to create, sustain, and cash in on your Seattle recreational pot shop is being marked on E Union.
Ponder, one of the neighborhood’s pioneer state-licensed cannabis shops, has been sold, sparking questions about the industry’s regulations and its place in Seattle’s tumultuous labor and workers rights movement.
John Branch, the owner who started the Central District shop seven years ago, said he could not provide details about any sale citing a confidentiality agreement. But he did comment on his years as a pioneer in Seattle’s regulated pot industry.
“I was one of the first people six years ago to start it. I was an original OG,” Branch said. “I just reached the arc.”
CHS reported here in September that the business and the building were going up for sale — at the time, Branch said soaring real estate values made it most likely the property would be sold for redevelopment and any business buyer would likely transfer the coveted license to a new location.
According to state records, the owners of the Forbidden Cannabis Club of pot shops with locations including Lacey, Olympia, and Okanogan, have pending applications to operate a retail cannabis business at Ponder’s E Union address.
UPDATE: The state control board has confirmed it is “processing an application to assume license 413809” that it received on June 28th. A control board representative said that regulations do not “require continuity of business for transfer” meaning the shop’s temporary closure won’t be a factor in any decision approving the transfer.
According to state data, the Ponder shop produced average revenue around $170,000 a month — with $60,000 of that going back to Olympia in the heavily taxed industry.
No property sale has yet been recorded with the county.
Seattle equity activist Nikkita Oliver has spoken out against a sale, citing opposition from the city’s Cannabis Equity Task Force over Ponder’s handling of its organized employees and alleging that the store’s closure should negate its license.
— nikkita oliver (they/them) (@NikkitaOliver) July 1, 2022
CHS has reached out to the state’s liquor and cannabis control board to ask more about the situation and status of any license transfer.
In 2021, workers at Central District pot shop Ponder became the latest to organize with the United Food and Commercial Workers in a spreading movement to unionize the state’s cannabis industry.
Branch said he could not comment on the situation with the closure of the store, any possible sale, or the union workers.
Branch opened Ponder quietly in the Central District around this time of year in 2015 as the neighborhood’s second pot shop. A year earlier, Ian Eisenberg opened his first Uncle Ike’s location at 23rd and Union, and, for a time, the store sold more pot than any other in Seattle. Ponder has continued on as a quiet alternative to the flashier, more ambitious Ike’s.
For now, the shop just down the Hill from the original Ike’s is closed, its unionized workers are out of jobs, and the paperwork is still being shuffled in Olympia for what comes next for the valuable license.
“I intentionally employed the neighborhood. I was a big supporter of the LGBT community and still am. Anybody who went to the store knew that,” Branch said. “But I’m moving on. I’m turning the page.”
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