Washington Could Allow Outside Money Into Pot Industry

By Conrad Wilson (OPB)
Vancouver, Washington May 17, 2016 6:58 p.m.

Michele Andersen grows 5,800 square feet of marijuana in Battle Ground, Washington.


Andersen, who got her license from the state in January, said she employees three people, but she needs closer to 10 or 15 employees to get all the work done.

“If we had capital we wouldn’t have every single family member down there at harvest,” she said. “We’re hiring people as we can because we don’t have the capital.”

Andersen said she has family in Oregon who would “love” to lend her money. But right now they can’t.

On Wednesday, the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board is scheduled to vote on new rules that could open up the state’s marijuana industry to money from outside the state.

“It’s essentially being like a bank and providing a loan to someone,” said Brian Smith, a spokesman for the board.

The proposed rules would lift a six-month residency requirement for any non-Washington resident who wants to loan or gift a licensed cannabis business money. Outside lenders would be allowed to charge interest, but wouldn’t be allowed to become investors in retail stores or grow operations. Ownership in marijuana businesses would still be limited to Washington residents.

Smith said lenders will also be subjected to criminal background checks.

“I don’t think this is going to revolutionize the industry in any way,” Smith said. “Some people have more access to capital in state, and they’re doing very well, but others need some of that outside help.”


Oregon lawmakers did away with the state’s residency requirements during the last legislative session. Starting in early June, all aspects of the state’s recreational marijuana industry are open to both residents and non-residents, as long as applicants get all necessary permits.

Related: No Shortage Of Marijuana In Washington Say Researchers

Hilary Bricken, an attorney in Seattle that specializes in the marijuana industry, said if Washington’s new rules get approved, they could help some businesses that currently struggle with cash flow.

“Many Washingtonians are not interested in investing in or supporting these businesses with their own money,” she said.

Bricken said right now financing for the industry in Washington is scarce. While a handful of regional banks and credit unions are willing to issue bank accounts to cannabis-related businesses, loans are hard to come by.

“It is very difficult to secure financing outside of friends and family,” Bricken said. “We don’t have institutional investors.”

Related: Looming Marijuana Ruling Could Limit Federal Prosecutions

Even though some in the industry are struggling to get enough capital, others are concerned that increasing access to money could hurt smaller growers and retail operations.

“In this industry already, at least in some of the bigger cities, you’ve already got your 900 lbs. gorillas that are operating already,” said Jon Britt, who in March opened High5 Cannabis in east Vancouver. “To see more of those, yes, that would be a little frightening.”

The retail dispensary is in a former auto-repair garage turned dance studio. He said he got they money he needed to start his store from a family business he ran for more than a decade.

“It’s one of those things that when you take a look at the business model you pretty much have to have your own funding,” he said.

Britt said if he needed capital quickly he would be stuck. At the same time, he doesn’t want the state to relax rules.

“There’s people out there in Washington willing lend our sector of the industry money,” Britt said.