OLYMPIA, Washington (Reuters) - Marijuana regulators issued Washington state's first business license for recreational cannabis on Wednesday to a grower who said he expects to have blooming pot plants ready to harvest within eight weeks.
Washington state and Colorado residents alike voted to legalize personal possession and consumption of marijuana for adults in 2012, with Colorado getting a jump on opening state-licensed retail stores, which also were permitted to grow their own.
Colorado beat Washington to the punch in part because it already had a system in place for licensing medical marijuana suppliers, and they became the first group of outlets allowed to enter the newly created recreational pot market in January.
Medical marijuana was already legal in Washington as well, but the state had no formal regulation of its supply and distribution.
Washington plans to launch its retail network in June, and already has received some 7,000 applications from prospective pot entrepreneurs. But unlike Colorado, Washington is keeping its marijuana cultivation and processing facilities separately located and licensed from its retailers.
Spokane resident Sean Green, the recipient of Washington's first recreational pot business license of any kind, accepted it before a cheering crowd at the headquarters of the State Liquor Control Board.
Already a grower and seller of medical marijuana with about 5,000 square feet of cultivation space, he has now been licensed to raise 21,000 square feet of recreational-use pot in a rented warehouse.
"We are living the American dream today here, right now," Green said.
Under state rules, Green has 15 days to register existing, non-flowering plants or seeds with the state, and he plans to start moving plants into his recreational pot facility soon, he said.
Green also is now licensed to process marijuana, and plans to use some of the pot he grows to make candy and concentrated edibles, he said. The bulk of his first round of recreational pot plants will be sold to other growers soon entering the market, said Philip Dawdy, a pot activist helping represent Green.
Liquor Control Board officials said they expect to issue a handful of additional pot-growing licenses in the coming days.
Green said he hopes one day to oversee a national chain of marijuana growers and processors, though he acknowledges that such an enterprise is not feasible under existing federal law.
The U.S. government still classifies marijuana as an illegal narcotic, though the Obama administration issued guidelines in August giving states new leeway to experiment with legalized cannabis.
A total of 20 states, along with the District of Columbia, currently allow marijuana use to treat various health ailments, but Washington and Colorado are the only two that permit cannabis use by adults for the sake of just getting high.
Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky; Editing by Steve Gorman and Ken Wills