Business

Pierce County gets its first retail cannabis store — but it’s not pot

With neither fanfare nor protest, retail cannabis came to unincorporated Pierce County on Friday with the opening of The Ultimate Cure in Summit.

That’s cannabis, not marijuana.

Angel Swanson, one of the owners of the enterprise at 5324 84th St. E., said the products she sells contain less than 0.3 percent of THC, the principal active ingredient in marijuana.

Initiative 502, which regulates the production, processing and retail sale of pot, defines marijuana as the parts of the cannabis plant “with a THC concentration greater than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.”

Anything less, Swanson says, makes a plant cannabis and not pot and therefore is legal to sell. Or buy. By anyone.

The oils, topical lotions and cannabis-infused edible snacks on the shelves, Swanson said, do contain high concentrations of CBD alongside the relative absence of THC.

That’s low THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, and high CBD, or cannabidiol.

Many people believe, and have provided anecdotal evidence, that CBD offers therapeutic effects for people suffering maladies ranging from epilepsy and cancer to eczema and arthritis.

Federal law is not as generous as I-502 in defining cannabis and marijuana.

In rules published in 2003, the federal Office of Diversion Control, Drug Enforcement Administration and Department of Justice discussed the exemption of certain forms of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.

The rule exempts substances that contain THC provided they are used for industrial purposes and not for human consumption.

THC is acceptable in the production of paper, rope and clothing; and animal feed can contain THC if designed for animal (not human) consumption; and it’s fine if sterilized cannabis seeds are used for shampoos, soaps and body lotions.

But in no case can THC enter the human body.

As for CBD, in a brochure available at The Ultimate Cure, Swanson claims the product is essentially legal.

And law enforcement?

“It’s not been asked and answered, that I’m aware of,” said Bruce Turcott, assistant attorney general in the office of State Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Would the state have purview?

“It’s never come up that way,” Turcott said. “I can’t say how the State Patrol or local law enforcement will view this.”

Maureen Goodman of the Pierce County Prosecutor’s office was unfamiliar with Swanson’s specific operation.

“This is something that is new,” said Goodman, team chief for narcotics, firearms and vice in the prosecutor’s office. “We haven’t dealt with it yet.

“We would really have to know more about the substance, the process, before we would do any prosecution. If this doesn’t meet the definition for THC, and the cannabidiol is not a controlled substance, I don’t know if we would prosecute it.”

Swanson said she receives her consumable products fom “four or five vendors. The edibles are local.”

The producers of the oils are based in the state and have experience with growing low-TCH cannabis, Swanson said.

Swanson and her husband, Scott, operate a pair of medicinal marijuana dispensaries in Pierce County, and they continue to seek a retail license under I-502. At first denied, they have appealed the initial decision of the state Liquor Control Board.

The Swansons are partnering in The Ultimate Cure venture with daughter Ashley and Anthony Miller, CEO of USEI Cannabis Initiatives, a California-based corporation that Miller said is eager to invest in various marijuana-related businesses.

“This helps us do a number of things,” Miller said Friday. “It gets us entrenched in the marijuana business in Washington. We’re still trying to make some traction in Colorado.”

“We hope to expand this,” Swanson said, explaining that Ultimate Cure stores could be franchised as the company expands into other Washington cities and other states.”

“Today is the day everything is in place,” she said, gesturing toward newly installed shelves that displayed the topical lotions, edibles, oils and vaping supplies.

Along with a dispensary offering medicinal marijuana, the business also sells supplies including pipes, bongs and rolling papers.

Prices range from $70 for a syringe containing one gram of CBD to less expensive crackers and candies.

“A lot of people don’t want that THC effect,” Swanson said. “When they can get high CBD, they’re all over that.”

She hopes to serve a market that could be left behind as the retail marijuana market expands.

“There are patients that are going to get edged out,” she said. “The retail shops are not going to concentrate on high-CBD products.”

All consumable products in the store, she said, are independently tested to ensure potency (or impotency) and quality, she said.

“Our tagline is ‘Get all the healing without the THC effect,’ ” she said.

“Once everybody knows we’re here I think we can capture a good portion of the medicinal market,” she said. “I want to get a Seattle store open. Then I think we’ll be ready for a public offering. It’s exciting. I’m stunned that nobody else is doing this. How can it be so easy?”

High-CBD products are widely available online, but Swanson said she is unaware of any brick-and-mortar suppliers in the state.

Or maybe beyond.

Dave Brian, editor of the Los Angeles-based industry publication 420 Times, said he knew of no stores anywhere in the country.

But he is aware of the demand.

“There’s a lot of people, they’re all seeking CBD,” he said. “They’ll go to the ends of the earth. A lot of baby boomers are into this.”

“I think the risk is low to minimal,” said Miller, the California investor. “We have a goal to do cannabis under whatever opportunities are presented to us. This is an excellent place to start.”

And how could anyone, Swanson wonders, think it’s against the law?

“It’s basically hemp, and hemp is legal,” she said.

“It seems like we learn something different every other week or so,” said Maureen Goodman of the prosecutor’s office.

“This is going to be evolving for quite a while.”

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