"They need us here."
In Lake Stevens, Laura Dana of The Healing Leaf continues the battle for access in Snohomish County amid tremendous uncertainty
College education in Italy, seasoned business owner with experience running multiple locations, background in international politics ... those are just a few of the bullet points that would head 27-year-old Laura Dana’s resume.
The question about Laura isn’t whether she’s talented; it’s why she chose medical Cannabis, a profession that comes with tremendous benefits, but also carries severe risks. Today, Laura is standing in the spotlight of the fight for medical Cannabis, caught between the passion and the politics of safe access.
Will Snohomish County respect the right of collective garden access points to exist? Should she fight for her collective, which has succeeded in helping patients and as a business? Or should she transition to a new model, adapting to the whims of the Snohomish County Council? She isn’t certain, but says she is going to fight for it.
A Changing Story Of Zoning
Laura opened The Healing Leaf access point in Lake Stevens on June 23, 2012, confident that the zoning information Snohomish County had provided would allow her to operate safely.
Her land-use application was approved by county building and fire inspectors, who visited the access point as part of the process. The occupancy permit was good for one year, and was expected to go through a basic annual renewal process. This year, before she could reapply, the county sent her a letter on July 3 revoking her status and setting a closure date. It is important to note that no complaints or previous county code violations occurred during the past year.
“The fire inspector said that there was an ‘accident’ when we were approved last year,” Laura said at the time of the letter, frustration evident in her tone. “How could they have accidentally approved something? And now they want to close me down because of their mistake.”
As of July 25, there is some indication that the county fire marshal's office will reissue an occupancy permit good through December 2013. This temporary hold on zoning enforcement would allow the county to create a new ordinance, though nothing is for certain.
“We are hoping to be grandfathered in by December, but nothing is set yet... at least we will get five months, that's good news for certain,” Laura said. “Its up in the air still, but it is good news.”
The collective’s building is under construction. Stacks of new flooring and painting tools are piled in the corner, and exposed drywall bears the signs of carpenter markings.
“We are reinvesting right now, in the middle of all this,” Laura explained. “We are planning on tearing out a wall, doubling the size of the bud room, and building a new office in the back area. We are also adding a new Cannabis testing lab, and are going to be bringing in new employees to run it.”
For most new businesses, hitting the one-year mark brings several challenges. Struggling to meet bills, growing pains, and a sometimes burned-out core staff can make future progress difficult. This is not the problem here, where rising patient demand has helped the business grow in leaps and bounds. If anything, the letter has already had an effect by causing job losses.
“We had eight employees in here before the letter, now I cut down to four,” she said. “It is hard to let people go who are doing a good job for you.”
Six collectives in Snohomish County, out of the nearly 20 that received letters, have banded together to fight the county. Attorney Kurt Boehl is representing the group, and they have hired a lobbyist to work with the county. A perception exists in counties outside of King County that MMJ is a Seattle fad, that people out in the more rural areas don’t accept marijuana as medicine. That perception has been quashed by the emergence of highly successful collectives in areas such as Granite Falls, Yakima, Spokane, Bellingham and along the state Route 9 corridor. For patient Katrina Matthias from the Lake Stevens area, local access has helped save her fuel and time. She was at the dispensary door at 9 a.m., along with many other patients who showed up early for the 10 a.m. opening time.
“Removing the collectives [in Snohomish County] would promote illegal activity. I can’t make it to Seattle all the time, and it wouldn’t be an honest way of getting meds out here if it isn’t from safe access,” Matthias said. “It will hurt the community in the long run.”
The irony is that state voters approved MMJ in 1998, and recently approved recreational legalization in 2012. What the county is doing doesn’t represent the will of the people.
“When we recently extended our hours, we saw a lot more patients, and they were so happy for the extended access,” Laura said. “And our patients range in age from an 8-year-old with epilepsy to those in their 70s and 80s. There is a need for this medicine in Snohomish County.”
Inside The Healing Leaf
For patients in need, The Healing Leaf has a lot to offer. Its full selection of medibles, topicals and concentrates are served by friendly and knowledgeable workers. In the flower department, the Sour Perma stands out as a sharp and smelly choice. The fluffy nugs are coated in sugary trichomes, and an exploding taste of petrol leaps out when this strain is smoked. It has uplifting effects, making it an effective morning or daytime strain.
The Black Widow is darker and earthier than most strains, with a light sweetness on the finish of the taste. It, too, is a fluffy bud, with purple leaf tips that stand in contrast to the bright green interior. The Indicas’ effects are quick to hit, and make this a solid choice for pain or migraines.
With cannabinoid testing now happening on-site through NW Cannabis Test, Laura will be able to offer even more information to medical patients in need. But with more than $50,000 invested in new equipment and construction, she needs to stay open to make it a success.
“We’ve already had vendors asking for testing for all their products. We want to test for other collectives, and for the products we put on our shelves,” she said. “I’m not sure if the county wants us here, but they need us here. Why eliminate 11 years’ worth of medical marijuana, especially with the research that has led to testing? It’s not fair to the patients.”
Time is not always friendly to those fighting for MMJ, but it’s especially unfriendly to those with cancer or those living in pain from a debilitating health condition.
“When I came back from college I wanted to be an activist, and I almost entered the World Food Program. But in this industry we have to deal with the politics, we have to become activists and business owners,” she said. “Life sure takes you in some unexpected directions.”
The Healing Leaf