First two recreational marijuana licenses issued in Whatcom County

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 15, 2014 

BELLINGHAM - The state has issued the first recreational marijuana licenses in Whatcom County to two growers-processors.

One went to Deepwater Botanicals for its tier 2 operation at 5373 Guide Meridian Road, Suite D3, outside of Bellingham. The applicants were Sundance and Amaris Benjestorf.

The other was issued to Virtual Services, which will be doing business as Oasis Organics, at 2018 Iron St., Suite B, in Bellingham. It is a tier 1 operation, the smallest type.

Both licenses were issued Tuesday, May 13.

The state created three tiers for growers based on square footage. Tier 1 was originally for operations smaller than 2,000 square feet; tier 2 was 2,000 to 10,000 square feet; and tier 3 was 10,000 to 30,000 square feet.

But because so many applied for licenses to grow pot, the Washington state Liquor Control Board decided in February to cap producers at 70 percent of the maximum growing space for which they applied.

Virtual Services owner Bob Lipke, who is retired, said his business will be a one-person effort.

"All I want to do is have enough income to pay my bills and to be able to do it all myself," Lipke said.

The Bellingham resident planned to pull on his background in tropical horticulture. He said he used to grow anthuriums and heliconias for the tropical flower industry in Hawaii.

Lipke will be raising 45 different strains of marijuana, drawing from Cannabis Cup winners and heirloom plants from the 1960s and '70s such as Colombian, Acapulco gold, Maui wowie and Thai stick.

"So it's going to be connoisseur, boutique, with lots of variety," he said.

Lipke estimated that his business will raise 50 to 150 pounds of marijuana a year.

"It could be more than that, it could be less. It's hard to say," he said.

A master grower from Hawaii also will serve as a consultant.

Getting the business going has been a hard and long process, Lipke said, but he appreciated that Washington officials are vetting the backgrounds and finances of those entering the state's newest industry since voters decided in November 2012 to legalize recreational marijuana.

"You don't want a bunch of shady characters running this kind of business," Lipke said.

He also thanked city officials, including the mayor's office, police, and planners, for the help he's received.

"They worked so hard to make everything happen, all of them," Lipke said.

Saying it costs a minimum of $50,000 to $100,000 just to get such a business up and running, Lipke also said he was looking for additional investors.

"It's an incredible amount of money," he said.

People who are interested can email him at Virtual Services at virserllc@gmail.com.

It's been nearly five months since the Dec. 20 deadline for pot entrepreneurs to apply for a license through the Washington state Liquor Control Board, which is regulating the new industry.

The state has received a total of 227 applications from Whatcom County businesses for licenses to grow and process pot for recreational use.

They were split into 124 for growing/producing and 103 for processing. Most businesses applied for both licenses.

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com .

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