Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
nothing’s going to get better. It’s not.”
–Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
Interview: SHILO MORGAN – On Family, Community, and Cannabis in the Tri-Cities.
The court system has ground Lucky Leaf’s business operations to a standstill, meanwhile inventory sits on the shelf while the case winds its way to appeals court. All of the revenue that came in during the 19 days of business has gone to excise taxes, sales taxes, and legal fees. With two kids age 9 and 12, Shilo Morgan has her family to think about. A ruling was made in Clarkston lifting the injunction against the two licensed retail facilities, which sets legal precedent that might apply to the City of Pasco’s injunction against Lucky Leaf.
There are four objectives to this story.
- Learn who Shilo and David are and what they stand for
- Understand the current situation
- Understand who is affected by cannabis bans.
- Learn what you can do to help.
Objective 1: Meet Shilo & David Morgan
If you don’t mind, I’d like to re-introduce Shilo and David Morgan. I want you to know what I know about Shilo and David as humans, parents, and caring members of your community. Discouraged by what seems like discrimination, David is nearly ready to give up on his hometown, Pasco, and move away or relocate their store. But for Shilo, this is also about the message she’s sending her kids.
“We have a family here. We have a 12 year old and a 9 year old. This is where they grew up, this is where they go to school. What would giving up prove to our kids, or to our customers, or to our supporters? It’s not just about us or Lucky Leaf at this point, it’s about everybody.”
Shilo and David Morgan with their children at a Seahawks game.
Shilo and David own Lucky Leaf Co. and Versatile Graphic Design.
You might be surprised to learn that Shilo and David’s two children attend St. Patrick’s Catholic School where Shilo is an active volunteer, coordinating charity auctions and mentoring students in Junior Achievement. Outgoing and warmhearted, Shilo calls everyone “Love” and makes people feel like they matter. Decked out in Seahawks fan gear, hands full of stacks of legal documents, Shilo’s voice carries an uncharacteristic heaviness as she describes the effects of the proceedings on her family and employees who are now out of work.
“I’m working on my teaching degree to become a K-8 teacher. I took time off from my education to open this business.” Shilo says. “I have relatives who moved all the way across the state to help us open. And my employees… this has cost people their jobs.”
Shilo and Christy reviewing legal documents for Lucky Leaf’s case.
A family man, David Morgan one of the kindest humans I’ve met. He posts on Facebook about being proud of his kids and cheers them on at sporting events. In person, his demeanor is utterly gentle; but there is a massive amount of quiet strength and courage beneath. If I had to guess, I’d say there isn’t an unkind bone in his body. He and Shilo clearly have a strong bond to each other, their children, and their extended families. A graphic designer, David’s profile describes him as a family man:
When he’s not working on on something awesome like a logo or building a website David enjoys spending time with his family and friends, boating, BBQ’n and gaming with his son David Jr. on Xbox 360. David has always enjoyed arts and design and after graduating in 2009 from WSU Tri-Cities, he opened Versatile Design Studios.
“I feel very fortunate to be able to wake-up everyday and work doing something I enjoy.”
If you’ll allow me to interject with some overgeneralizations for just a moment, I’d like to share observations about three major types businesspeople I’ve encountered in the early I-502/recreational cannabis industry:
- In it for the money. I refer to these types “drug dealers” because these people care not about the quality of the product, only the potency and quantity since recreational cannabis products usually end up being priced according to $/mg THC. They manufacture what they think “the kids want these days” and almost never test their own products (a=sounds like a drug dealer, does it not?). Some of these are involved in the industry already, and many more are waiting in the wings. The point is, they don’t care about you except as you pertain to their bottom line, and are largely ignorant of therapeutic benefits of cannabis.
- Former black market people with skillz but little money or business sense. These types often care very much about the quality of their product, but can be scientifically questionable – forces exerted by prohibition led to some odd evolutions. Oftentimes they know that a process works, but not why it works, or whether it’s the best one. Many of them are nonchalant about safety, lacking basic laboratory safety training. In a risk-averse area, rumors about this type can certainly sound alarming. I don’t think these types are inherently untrustworthy, and believe they should be shepherded into the industry with an eye for safety and sound science. Prohibition is ending, and the artisans knowledge could be lost.
- The “good ones.” Well, this will probably get me into trouble, but I don’t know how else to describe it. These are the conscientious people with decent business sense and scruples, who “know they don’t know”, and seem to value continuous learning. They’re often just normal family types, the kinds you’d expect to see running a small local business. Of course they want to make money with their business because duh, that’s the point of a business, but they care about the wellbeing of their customers first and foremost. They’re often pot smokers and had an “upstanding citizen” past life before starting a cannabis business. David & Shilo, obviously, are in this category.
The problem right now is that the people that you really want leading the charge in cannabis legalization are not exactly flocking to the industry (yet – but it has begun). So in the meantime, it’s up to the drug dealers and former black market folks to battle it out. Unfortunately, the more unsavory businesspeople often come equipped with deeper pockets, and deep pockets are the only thing that can survive the steep overhead startup costs and legal roadblocks. 2012’s Initiative 502 was not exactly written to keep the smaller Mom & Pop shops in business (born broken, as I think of it). Yes, I know that is an understatement.
All of this is to say that the Morgans are very much the third category, exactly the kind of people that you’d WANT to be running legal cannabis access points. They are family-oriented people with a track record of integrity. They’re the epitome of a Tri-Citian and Washingtonian, complete with Seahawks pride. They’re actually responsible enough and good enough to be entrusted with the area’s only legal cannabis access point (the next closest legal store is 35 miles away).
And that makes their situation even more exasperating.
“We want to work with the City but the City will not work with us,” Shilo explains.
Speaking of, now that you know who Shilo and David are and what they’re about, let’s talk about their business situation.
Objective 2: Understanding the Current Situation
The Morgans have been working on opening a retail store since 2013.
They first received pre-approval with the WSLCB for a location in downtown Pasco near the Pasco Farmer’s Market that met all zoning requirements and spent about $4,000 securing it. It was near a small run-down park that they confirmed did not interfere with their zoning requirements under the I-502 law. Several weeks later, the WSLCB was notified that Peanuts Park would be renovated (for about two million dollars) which would then apply the 1000ft rule to Lucky Leaf. To give you perspective, this is the rough downtown area of Pasco where prostitution, crack, and meth use are known to occur. It is undeniably a seedy and probably dangerous area of the Tri-Cities. And just months after the Morgans forfeited their original location, a head shop selling pipes and paraphernalia was opened across the street. Who knows.
“It was probably for the best,” Shilo says, “It wasn’t a very safe spot.”
I agree with Shilo; their new location is much better and safer. After an extensive review and some discussions with the mayor and county commissioner, Shilo and David went to the boonies and settled on a location near the King City Truck Stop. There is quite literally nothing out there besides the truck stop, an adult store, a Burger King, some industrial buildings, and a bunch of fields. No houses, schools, or civilization to speak of. Half a mile down the road, BUDS Pasco, an LCB-licensed Tier II producer, had been operating since 2013. BUDS closed its doors last week, but for unrelated reasons.
By this time, summer 2015, Morgans had been licensed by the LCB but still could not obtain a business license from the City of Pasco; in fact, the city refused to process their application. THREE TIMES.
“David has gone down to the City three different times to apply for a business license and no one in the office would even take the paperwork out of his hands. The least they could do is take our $75 and deny us our application. The city’s Community & Economic Development director looked David in the eye and said ‘nope,’ refusing to take the business license application out of his hands.”
“They knew that if they were to deny our license, we could appeal it.” Shilo said.
So having been thrice denied the opportunity to even apply for a business license by the City of Pasco, and because another legal cannabis business was allowed to operate nearby, Lucky Leaf opened without a city license on July 25.
That’s precisely what the City of Pasco was waiting for. A temporary restraining order was filed on August 19th against Lucky Leaf for operating without a business license. Judge Ekstrom granted an injunction on August 24th to keep Lucky Leaf closed pending further court reviews.
And remember the finger-jabbing city attorney? Shilo says that appearances aren’t everything. At that injunction hearing I wrote about in August, it seems that City of Pasco Attorney Kerr was just putting on a show, ostensibly to demonstrate the City of Pasco’s views on things. When he’s not arguing for City of Pasco to keep legal cannabis banned, he is approving conditional use permits for a cannabis store in Walla Walla. Yes, that’s right. Same attorney helping other cities open stores.
I know this doesn’t add up, but I’m not omniscient, and don’t pretend to understand the motivations of key players in this case, so moving right along.
Despite everything, it seems that Kerr was impressed with how the Lucky Leaf supporters behaved in the courtroom.
“Lee Kerr says the nicest things about us and our supporters,” Shilo said, after having run into him at a Seahawks game and having a pleasant exchange.
“Kerr complimented the Lucky Leaf supporters at the injunction. Our supporters zipped it, kept things quiet and respectful, and the court was impressed by their good behavior.” She explained Kerr’s positive attitude toward herself and David.
Now, the Morgans are awaiting their next court hearing in Spokane, but because they were denied a re-hearing, they are still forced to keep their doors closed and are losing an estimated $8k-10k a day in revenue, not to mention the inventory left to stale on their shelves.
Going back to the conditional use permits approved in Walla Walla.
The Morgans’ team carefully reviewed the Walla Walla resolution and wrote a settlement proposal to the City of Pasco using similar wording to that Walla Walla resolution (which was written by Kerr) allowing conditional use permits for a limited number of retail stores. The Morgans’ legal team submitted their proposal to the City on August 28. Not surprisingly, city attorney Kerr liked it. Kerr seems to realize that legalization is inevitable, and is actively helping other cities open stores. And he apparently likes the Morgans well enough. He liked their proposed resolution with the City of Pasco. So, we deduce that City of Pasco’s attorney, then, is willing to work with the Morgans to settle and allow their store to open in a controlled fashion.
Then Rick White, Community & Economic Development Director, saw the settlement proposal and said “Absolutely not.” And that’s where it died.
Hold the phone… if the city attorney is willing to work with the Morgans, as well as two members of the Pasco City Council, and the Mayor, then who exactly is opposing legal cannabis access?
Shilo deduces that the only opponents appear to be Rick White and four city council members. That’s it. It makes you wonder, where do Mr. White and the opposing city council members get their information? Are they qualified to make this decision for you? Take this as a lesson to pay closer attention to what’s happening in local elections. I certainly have.
“It’s not just about us or Lucky Leaf at this point, it’s bigger than that.” – Shilo.
Objective 3: Who is affected?
“I go to check the store’s voicemail and there are so many messages going ‘Well FUCK!’ ‘Goddamn city of Pasco’ ‘Well shit, what am I going to do now?’” – Shilo
I ask Shilo if she saves the voicemails ; she says she wants to, but the voicemail fills up so quickly that she has to delete them.
“I feel so bad for our customers,” says Shilo. “We’ve kept quiet because our attorneys told us to keep quiet until our rehearing. When we got the news that our rehearing was denied, I have decided I am not keeping quiet anymore because it’s not getting anywhere.”
Shilo and David reviewed the birth dates of their customers and found that the majority of their customers are 41-65 years old.
This is also true of most other retail stores. Customers like to talk about the “glory days” of smoking pot in the 60’s and come in because they have money, don’t have black market hookups or don’t want to buy black market, and are looking for some therapeutic help. They want to feel young again. They’re looking for pain relief. Anxiety relief. Depression relief. Restful sleep. Couples looking to reconnect with each other. The primary recreational customers are not young troublemakers but middle aged and elderly people just wanting to feel better.
Remember the medical system is being rolled into the recreational (the two will be fully merged in 2016), so without access to recreational stores, there IS no access.
In Clarkston, WA a case very similar to Lucky Leaf’s has been unfolding. On 9/18, Greenfield Company and Canna4Life both reopened after an injunction was halted and criminal charges dropped against the owners.
Shilo and David’s case is very similar to the Clarkston case, except that Shilo and David haven’t been charged with any criminal activity like the stores in Clarkston. My sources tell me that there are consequences; most of the Clarkston City Council is on their way out the door because of this whole debacle.
The stores are currently allowed to operate per court ruling despite the city’s objections. Had this case been decided before Lucky Leaf’s injunction hearing, the outcome might have been different. However the re-hearing has already been denied.
Objective 4. Call To Action!
If you read all the way to the end, then it is precisely YOU who Shilo and I are writing to, and it is you who can make a difference! Let’s tell the city what’s up, but let’s do it together with kindness. [If you must rant, I understand; email it to me and I’ll translate it and send it on. ;)] The only way we are going to make a dent in the stigma is to MODEL the change we want to see in the world. We have to remember that people still live in fear of this plant. That fear is very real and we have to treat it with respect and love.
There is freedom waiting for you
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask, “What if I fall?”
Oh, but my darling, what if you FLY?
– Erin Hanson
So here are some suggestions to choose from:
- Pasco city council is creating a public survey and one of the questions that might be on the survey is whether or not people think the ban is good for our city. Write to the Pasco City Council here and let them know that you’d like the cannabis ban question on the survey. Keep in mind that anything you send to the city becomes public record.
- Write to the Pasco City Council directly and let them know whether or not you support Ordinance 4166 banning cannabis. Here are the key players to copy on your letter and keep in mind this may be public record. Depends on how much time you have, but it’s not a crazy idea to copy your response to all of them.
- Attend City Council Meetings. Here are links to the local cities.
- Richland, First and third Tuesdays of each month at 7:30pm
- Kennewick, Every other Tuesday at 6:30pm
- Pasco. Mondays at 7:00pm
- West Richland, First and third Tuesday of every month at 7:00
- Benton City – The City Council meets every 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month at 7:00 p.m., in the City Hall Council Chambers.
- Sign Change.Org petition to lift Pasco’s Cannabis Ban, Ordinance 4166.
- Tell your story! One of the most powerful things you can do is to speak your deepest truth. Do you have a story? I want to help you tell it. Submit yours to firstname.lastname@example.org or to discuss an interview. Be sure to include how you’d like to be signed. I won’t ask you to show our face or use your real name. [At least not this time.]
Source: Shilo Morgan on Family, Community, and Cannabis in the Tri-Cities WA | anonalyss