Tacoma marijuana growers see a strong future in processing pot for sale

To some, the air inside Commencement Bay Production and Processing might seem to suggest the scent of the ’60s.

It’s marijuana, sweet, deep, rich with sticky resin.

Actually, this is the smell of tomorrow.

It’s marijuana, rich with commercial possibilities all along the 2.5-month journey from clone to bowl.

“I see this happening a lot like liquor,” said David Easley, who owns the Commencement Bay operation, there on the edge of Nalley Valley, along with partners Tyler Severy and David Meinert.

When liquor sales were privatized, when the state Liquor Control Board lost its monopoly to private enterprise, there were entrepreneurs who won, and those who lost.

Which could happen again, with the legalization of marijuana.

Inside this former gymnasium, as tall as a warehouse with room to expand, 22 8-foot-by-20-foot shipping containers stand stacked one above the other providing 7,500 square feet of “plant canopy.” The containers are wired for light and plumbed for irrigation, and inside several shine lights both white and sodium-orange as fans blow soft breezes.

The partners have so far invested about $150,000 in the enterprise, and expect their final investment to top $300,000, Easley said.

He is a father of two and grew up in Gig Harbor. He comes to Commencement Bay with a background both in the financial and adult beverage industries.

“It was just time to take a leap,” he said earlier this week. “I’m all in.”

“The economy helped me by closing my former business,” said Severy, who operated his own construction and fencing company.

A 21-year veteran of the Puget Sound, he had moved to the East two years before returning.

“I needed a hiatus from working for myself,” he said. “We missed Tacoma. We decided to come back.”

Easley and Severy met at an early gathering of persons interested in the business of cannabis.

“It all kind of came together,” said Easley. “We both had our applications in with the state. We were brainstorming together. Why in the world would we want to do this separately?”

And now – like other entrepreneurs would say, like the state would say – he said, “We’re all making it up as we go.”

The partners have been granted a dual license allowing them to both grow and process marijuana.

“The growth is going to be in production and processing,” Severy said.

Yes, other growers might know about lights and water, about the growth cycles of a plant, about good buds and bad. But they might not know about processing and packaging at an industrial level.

It’s one thing to harvest a few plants, then pack the cured flower into baggies. It’s quite another to process pounds, to weigh, package, label and seal the product by grams into state-sanctioned containers.

That’s where Commencement Bay may have an edge as the industry readies for legal, recreational, retail sales.

The partners first went to the food industry to investigate possible packaging solutions. They found none. Tool and machine makers haven’t yet devised a strategy for weighing, sealing and stacking grams of fragile, dried, cured, inspected and labeled marijuana.

The partners at Commencement Bay have designed their own proprietary system, and their new machine is expected to arrive in August.

Easley mimics the possible reaction of a grower honed in hippie years: “Now I have to deal in gram bags? How many grams in a pound?”

“There will be a bottleneck, a shortage,” he said. “They’re not thinking about the next step. How do they put it into a bag? My own business plan is to have us at 90 percent processing. We’ll start at 50-50, growing and processing.”

Other growers have contacted Commencement Bay about contracting the company’s processing services.

“We don’t want to grow too fast,” Severy said. “We have a conservative approach.”

They have hired a master grower who learned his trade in the Southwest. They plan to hire an artist to help with packaging design.

They are not yet ready to set a price for their product.

“Markets decide prices,” Easley said. “Retailers are coming to us. They’re afraid there won’t be enough product. It’s irresponsible to set a price now.”

“We’re being approached with contracts, but we’re not signing,” said Severy.

Under state law, Commencement Bay is not allowed to sell its packaged marijuana in a retail setting. All sales will be to licensed retail sellers.

They’re all making it up as they go.

“There will be a lot of $50,000, $60,000 mistakes,” Easley said.

“The thought is that a lot of companies are going to be for sale in the next year,” said Severy. “I’m happy where we are now. I fear for the other people. They’re going to be hemorrhaging money.”

“We want to do this by the book, so we can show it works. You don’t get a chance to pioneer anything everyday,” said Easley.

Said Severy, “It’s every part except marijuana that excites me.”