Vashon Island looked sweet to Colorado entrepreneurs who founded the EdiPure line of pot-infused candies and snacks.
They wanted to expand their brand in Washington. And Vashon, just a short ferry ride from Seattle, was known for its tolerance and illegal pot growing.
Dubbed “Weed Island” last year by Modern Farmer magazine, 73 percent of Vashon’s electorate voted for Initiative 502, legalizing production and sale of pot.
Vashon offered even more — the vacant, former K2 ski factory. What was once a source of jobs and pride for the island has been reduced to 160,000 square feet of empty building space on 18 prime acres along the island’s main drag. It has sat vacant for almost a decade. Its best use now, according to some islanders, is for parking if you’re late for the Strawberry Festival Parade.
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The price was right, said Dan Anglin, spokesman for Bakkhos Holding, a Washington corporation formed by EdiPure founders. Named for the Greek god of revelry, Bakkhos has a contract to buy the old K2 building for $1.4 million, Anglin said.
But Anglin’s team didn’t anticipate a few snags.
An island organization that trains activists raised an environmental flap that turned out, according to state officials, to be misguided.
A zoning problem popped up, giving opponents, and the uncertain, a beachhead from which to lob questions and fortify their positions.
Most concerning to Anglin, though, were the islanders who said they voted for legal weed but never envisioned anything like the EdiPure proposal at K2. “NIMBY Island” was one thing the EdiPure partners were not expecting.
“I voted for legal marijuana. It never occurred to me we were talking about THC candy,” said Vashon resident Lesley Reed during a packed and divided meeting last month on the island. Candies would be more tempting to children than other forms of pot, Reed said, and should be dispensed through pharmacies — although that’s not what I-502 calls for.
Some were quick to counter those, including Reed, who said they supported legal weed but not a “pot factory” at K2.
How odd, some supporting EdiPure said, that regulated pot, with state-supervised software tracking every gram, was seen as worse for Vashon than the illegal pot already on the island — or alcohol, for that matter.
“I won’t personally use EdiPure products any more than I use K2 skis,” said Liz Shepherd. “But I don’t think there should be any more stigma attached to this product than there is to alcohol available up and down the island.”
Others wondered where voters thought legal pot was going to come from, if not places like Vashon? “We voted for marijuana. We need jobs on this island. This community supported marijuana illegally for years. Let’s support it legally,” said Hilary Emmer.
This is Vashon, though, where people like to express their individuality. As resident Wayne Miller said, you know what that means: “Get 10 people in a room, you’ll have 12 opinions.”
For some, the EdiPure proposal just won’t go down easily. The business owners aren’t local. King County officials have proposed a zoning change to accommodate pot merchants. Island teens already use more pot than average high-schoolers.
And then there’s K2.
It’s more than an old ski factory, for some. It’s the island’s largest building, its most visible property, and a bellwether of Vashon’s identity.
It’s a magnet for dreams and ideals — such as a community center, conference center, teen center, and incubator for local sustainable businesses.
But those dreams haven’t been attained. They’ve now gone to pot, it seems.
And even on Weed Island, some are struggling with what that may say about their community.
Relocated to Washington
To meet the state’s three-month residency requirement for licensed pot entrepreneurs, three of EdiPure’s leaders moved to Washington last year.
Scott Bergin and Daniel Griffin rented an apartment on Bainbridge Island. Another partner, Michael Rosen, listed a Mercer Island address on his state license application.
Rosen has recently been replaced on the team, Anglin said, by a Washington-bred investor.
EdiPure has gained footholds in medical-marijuana markets in Colorado and Washington with its line of more than 60 snacks, from cheddar crackers to lemon drops and, yes, candied gummy bears that would later roil Vashon.
The company has no infractions in Colorado, according to regulators at the state Department of Revenue and the city of Denver.
EdiPure’s strategy is to develop K2 in phases. The first phase calls for growing up to 21,000 square feet of pot in the building. The raw pot would be processed into intoxicating or pain-relieving oils that would be infused into foods bought wholesale from others. Products would then be packaged at K2 and shipped off the island, via Washington state ferry.
EdiPure products wouldn’t likely be sold on the island, as there appear to be no viable retail store applications for Vashon.
The company would initially employ about 45 people, Anglin said. In later phases EdiPure hopes to manufacture its own food and packaging, strictly regulated under state rules, at K2. At full build-out, the company would employ roughly 100 people, Anglin said.
K2 not off the hook
EdiPure’s first problem surfaced when Bill Moyer, “artful activism” guru at the island’s Backbone Campaign, suggested that K2’s sale would mean the ski company was no longer liable for cleaning up contaminated soil caused by an old heating-oil tank on the parcel.
A petition was circulated, hundreds signed. But according to the state Department of Ecology (DOE), Moyer’s fears are unfounded.
A sale would not release K2’s owners of cleanup duties, according to DOE’s Donna Musa. “Nobody gets off the hook,” Musa said.
K2 is not a high priority for DOE, she added, as leaking heating-oil tank sites are very common throughout the Puget Sound region.
Another twist loomed. EdiPure learned that King County zoning for legal pot businesses on Vashon didn’t apply to the K2 parcel.
It turns out K2, and the nearby area, are governed by a 1996 Town Plan, later incorporated into the county’s comprehensive plan. The plans do not explicitly allow marijuana at K2.
It also turns out that a number of businesses — including Seattle Distilling — are now operating in the same area and are not explicitly allowed, either. The Metropolitan King County Council will need to amend rules to allow pot businesses, and perhaps other uses, such as distilleries, in the area.
Some see the county process as hurried. A petition initially signed by 16 people — including Moyer, Leslie Brown, former editor of the Vashon Beachcomber, and Amy Carey, a leader in the fight against a gravel mine on nearby Maury Island — stressed the K2 property’s high profile. They said the decision over its future was a “watershed moment for our island.”
They asked county officials to “push the pause button” and give islanders time to figure out what EdiPure might mean for Vashon.
Some warned that such a pause would chase EdiPure away.
But the company doesn’t have a lot of choice. EdiPure had also applied for licenses in Woodinville as a hedge, Anglin said. But last month, Woodinville, a haven to 90 wineries, decided to ban legal pot merchants.
“We’re dedicated to it now,” Anglin said of Vashon.
And that was after the attack of the gummy bears.
To depict EdiPure’s products to readers, the Beachcomber ran a prominent photo of brightly colored THC-laced gummy-bear candy.
The image riled some of the approximately 250 people who last month jammed into the Chautauqua Elementary School cafeteria, filling every seat, lining the walls and spilling onto the stage.
George Eustice warned that legal pot was “going to cause deaths.” Jim Hauser said he was “sorry to see how available it will be to kids.” Mike Kirk said his concern is what legal pot “symbolizes to kids.”
Some were misinformed about the law. They apparently didn’t know EdiPure could only sell to state-licensed retail stores; that selling to minors remains a felony; and that gummy bears would be packaged in opaque child-resistant containers.
Nor did they probably know that after a careful reading of I-502 during the 2012 campaign, the Children’s Alliance, representing more than 100 organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of King County, endorsed the measure.
The Alliance stated that racially skewed enforcement of pot laws was a greater threat to children than pot itself.
Shepherd thinks she understands why some who voted for I-502 are disappointed by the K2 proposal.
Some of the folks behind the “pause button” petition had floated high-minded ideas for K2’s future, she said. Some had no realistic sources of funding, she said. Dreams are hard to let go.
That’s part of the debate that’s largely unstated, Shepherd said, “that community hopes didn’t work out, that there were powerful players who had other plans for that space.”
And some of those folks worry, she said, about what to tell their kids. That they couldn’t achieve their dreams and instead bequeathed future generations a pot factory?
Vashon writer and humorist Kevin Joyce laid out similar concerns in a letter late last year.
Islanders would define themselves by what happens at K2 or “it will define us,” he wrote.
Could they overcome their “individualistic un-governability” and “iconoclastic, leave-me-alone-on-my-5-acres” reputations, Joyce asked, to galvanize against “off-island Doobie Brothers capitalizing on legal weed in our K2”?
If aliens came down to assess Vashon, Joyce said, they’d see its failure to create something better at K2 as a moral flaw.
“They would think we were stoners, and they would move on to Bainbridge, which, if it had a K2, would be growing truffles,” he said.
In an interview, Joyce said views like his weren’t NIMBY, they were NIMFY, or Not In My Front Yard. Entrepreneurs could put a pot facility in his backyard, Joyce said, just not one in such a prominent place.
It’s not accurate to say opposition to EdiPure is sour grapes because they got to K2 first, he stressed. Joyce said he is most concerned that islanders couldn’t come up with a better idea.
K2 has been the chance of a lifetime for 10 years now, Joyce concluded, “and that window may be closing.”
Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @potreporter