Angel and Scott Swanson have begun a journey for which there is no map.
Like hundreds perhaps thousands of other entrepreneurs in Washington, the Swansons hope to sell marijuana and cannabis-based foodstuffs for recreational use.
The Swansons already supply their medicine to registered medical patients. From a renovated house between Puyallup and Edgewood in unincorporated Pierce County, they sell several strains of marijuana bud as well as candy, cookies, cocoa, fruit drinks, soups, oils, honey, tinctures, lotions and more, all infused with the essence of cannabis.
Before opening their Naturally Green Access Point a year ago, Angel was a real estate agent and Scott worked in a warehouse.
The commerce of cannabis has not been a long-held dream for the couple, particularly for April. Only recently after extensive research has she come to regard cannabis as worthwhile.
The News Tribune recently spoke with the Swansons at their shop.
Why do you sell marijuana?
Angel: We definitely enjoy this and we definitely believe in it. We enjoy working with patients. It makes me want to come to work every day.
Patients such as...
A gentleman, he has MS (multiple sclerosis). He has a walker. This is an excursion. He hangs out for 10 to 15 minutes, chatting. We have a tea, he likes that. When I wake up in the morning I think of him.
How long have you been advocates for cannabis, medicinal or otherwise?
Angel: I was raised on the South Side of Chicago. As a black woman you see drugs, you run the other way. My mother was all about education. Drugs were not in her vocabulary, and you had to twist my arm to give me an aspirin.
Scott: I smoked when I was younger. When we had the kids I stopped smoking and stopped drinking.
Angel: Our daughter had abdominal problems. Then she started to put on weight. We asked her, and she had that smile only a mom or dad can pick up on. A friend was getting her medicinal marijuana cookies. I flipped out. I researched for a month how she should not be doing this. I looked all over. I could not find anything. Im a little bit of a dinosaur here.
I sat down with my pastor. We talked about the difference between street drugs and medicine. There will always be people who take it inappropriately, but theres medical value also. It took me a while to get my arms around that.
So you opened a medicinal store?
Angel: I just thought it was a good opportunity. We could help people. We were starting from the dirt bottom licensing, getting an attorney. We started out by Good Sam (hospital, in Puyallup), but we couldnt get a city business license, so we moved.
Scott: We appealed, and we lost the appeal.
What do your kids think of your new career? (The couple has seven grown children and one grandchild)
Scott: It was mixed.
Angel: Some got it, and some were hesitant. One asked me, Who are you and what did you do with my mother?
What do your customers come in for, typically?
Scott: Pain is the biggest.
Angel: Pain first and cancer second. People trying to get off Oxycontin and opiates.
What did you think when Initiative 502 passed?
Scott: Our fear, if it did become legal, I didnt see the state letting us continue with medicinal sales.
Angel: I think well see a reduction in business. Our plan is to obtain a license to do retail as well as medicinal. It is our desire to serve our patients. I think the state will require a separate location. Now we get our supply from patients. For retail, it will come from state-licensed growers, then through a processor and distributor. Thats our interpretation.
Of course, there are no rules yet.
Angel: Its not that much different than when we opened this. There was no established anything. The only mentor we had was our attorney.
Scott: Its frustrating just not knowing what you need to do. But its early. Theyre still trying to figure it out.
Angel: Weve joined a trade group, the Cannabis Business Group. There are groups all over. The idea is to gather together. How do we position ourselves to become what the state is looking for, and possibly help the state in making the rules? What we know is that we cannot grow the product and sell retail. Theres just a thousand questions.
What other concerns do you have?
Scott: Its not knowing what we need to do. What weve heard is that there will be 3,000 to 4,000 retail licenses. It will really be a lottery.
Angel: My fear is that this will become a battle of dollars, and it will squeeze out the small business people. There will be a limited number of licenses for growers. What does that do to the (equivalent of) craft brewers and small vineyards? Will they be squeezed out? We dont know. We hope not.
Will it be a lottery? I hope it would be based on merit. Here, where we are, we dont need 15 stores. We need two or three. I hope medicinal (shops) stay too. I think they have a valid place. I think its been proven.
What are you doing to play a part?
Angel: We are going to forums to see any developing path, to see where things are going and prepare for that.
Recreational use goes beyond medicinal use. Do you have any problem with using the product for personal reasons?
Angel: I had to get to recreational use the long way. I had to get to where I believed that cannabis wouldnt hurt you. You can drink yourself to death. You cant smoke joints to the point where you kill yourself. And I dont smoke cannabis. I dont even know how to smoke.
Whats your goal with a retail, recreational operation?
Angel: I think there should be good money in it. As entrepreneurs, I think its a good business investment. On the flip side, its just being able to do something for people that they enjoy, and could do them some good.
C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535
Life with legalized pot
Washington voters in the November election passed Initiative 502, allowing personal use of cannabis for adults. The state Liquor Control Board is in the process of developing rules and regulations to guide the industry. Mikhail Carpenter, spokesman for the state Liquor Control Board, has said no firm data exist concerning the number of people interested in becoming sellers – or growers, processors or distributors – of the newly legalized products. However, hundreds of people already have turned out for statewide forums in Olympia and Seattle to discuss the next steps in organizing state-licensed stores.
Scott and Angel Swanson
The business: The couple owns and manages a medicinal marijuana shop, Naturally Green Access Point, in Pierce County.
The ambition: To become one of Washington’s registered sellers of cannabis products for recreational use.
Family: Seven children, all grown; one grandchild.
Age: Angel is 51, Scott is 49.
Background: Angel hails from Chicago, Scott from Federal Way. She has worked in real estate, while he has worked in warehousing. Both are teetotalers.
Community involvement: Scott plays in his church band; Angel is producing “Jesus Christ Superstar” with the congregation.