George Hobart, a resident of Port Hadlock Washington, has run medical marijuana cooperatives (and currently retail marijuana outlets) for four years in Port Hadlock and Port Townsend, WA. The father of one, George is a retired school teacher, professional rock and roll musician and a Vietnam era US Army Veteran. Aged 74, he’s run a number of business in Washington State including 20 years’ operating a caviar export business. He began his medical marijuana business in 2011 with only $1500. I sat down with George recently to discuss his experiences of running a medical marijuana business.
Q: What’s the one thing a medical marijuana store owner should be concerned about regarding sales and marketing of “product”?
A: My number one concern for my MM store was to determine what, if any, kinds of pesticides the growers were using. The product should always be tested by a licensed lab. When you grow the plants they get bugs on them and dealing with the bugs, like spider mites, is the main thing that concerns me. Not just as the owner, but as a user. I’m not going to go to a medical store that doesn’t have their product tested. Here in Washington there are several state approved labs and they test for THC and CBDs which is nice to know. However, the critical testing is for mold, which can kill you and pesticides which can also do serious neurological damage. The product of course, should be labeled with any known pesticides. I would never buy a product that wasn’t labeled.
Q: Now that the State of Washington is doing away with Medical Marijuana stores, where do clients go to purchase medical marijuana?
A: If you’re a medical marijuana user in Washington after July 2016, you can still get your medical marijuana products in retail stores. However, to get a 10% sales tax discount meaning, you need to register in special State run medical marijuana database. Some people however are reluctant to sign up for a database where they might be perceived as Schedule 1 drug offenders.
Q: What obstacles have you found in the community when it came to setting up shop.
A: I call it the Big fish in a small pond syndrome. Somebody from local government, say the zoning commission or city council, may think that medical marijuana has no value. One person who opposes a store opening can torpedo your whole business. It’s hard to fight this because after all it’s a Schedule 1 substance. One person can be a fly in the ointment and cause major problems.
Q: How did you manage to get your license to open up your establishment in Washington State and how much did it cost?
A: I simply applied for it, just like you’d apply for any other business licence. Of course they want to make sure you don’t have a criminal record. In some instances there were lotteries if there were multiple applicants in a city or county. I was in a lottery because there were six applicants for a license in Port Townsend. It cost me $1000 for a business license and my building rental was $400. I understand in Hawaii it’s a little different.
Q: How long did it take you to be profitable?
A: We started our first day with about $600 worth of product, which we grew in the back room. Every day we’d double our money so the next day we’d have twice as much. We quickly built up a nice inventory. By day four we had paid the rent and were starting to pay ourselves.
Q: Were you able to grow your own product?
A: Initially yes. But we soon exhausted that and purchased from local vendors who used to sell on the black market. This had the effect of taking drugs off the black market and pumped more tax money into the local economy.
Q: Any problems renting storefronts?
A: Beware that rents can skyrocket. About half the people won’t rent to you and the other half will gouge you. Be sure that you have different options available to you when it comes to setting up storefronts.
Q: Any other tips that you recommend for a new store owner?
A: I would establish a good relationship with the local police. My first day in business here I had the police come down to our building and let them know what we are doing. I gave them a walk through and informed them of my plans. That really helped. You’ve got to make sure that law enforcement knows what you are doing. We’ve never had any issues with the police during our four years of operation.
Q: What about security with your store?
A: When I opened my store I worried about security, but in retrospect, it’s never been a concern. You either need to own a big safe and keep your product in the store, or take it home with you. We’ve never had any threats or problems. In our area there’s been no increase in crime associated with medical marijuana. I can see where it might be more of a concern with growers, but not at our retail outlets.
Q: Any other issues that might concern owners?
A: The issues I’ve had were business-related. Unfortunately, I’ve found that when that money is involved you can’t trust anyone. I’d say know your partners well. Have all your agreements in properly executed. It’s very important to know what you’re doing ahead of time. Most of the business deals I’ve done in the past were based on a handshake. But you’ve got to know who you are dealing with. When it comes to serious money, people can change.
Q: What’s the most gratifying thing for you about working in this business?
A: I’ve found I can really help people. I’ve been able to help many people beat addiction to opiates. As a former school teacher I never got the kinds of kudos I get from the medical marijuana business. I can’t go anywhere in town without someone putting their arm around my shoulder and thanking me profusely.
It’s not just the former users who are happy to be opiate-free. I often encounter their family members—whether a significant other or a brother or sister—who are overjoyed to have their loved ones back. The bottom line is that getting off opiates, which are extremely destructive, is a very big deal. Medical Marijuana has been proven to accomplish this. Being part of this equation is very rewarding for me.
Rob Kay interviewed George Hobart for the Hawaii Reporter. He can be reached at RobertFredKay@gmail.com. Photos courtesy of George Hobart and Wikipedia.
Rob Kay writes about firearms for Hawaii Reporter and is the author of How to Buy an AK-47.
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