Today’s marijuana- growing business is oft-compared to gold rush days of old. It’s a green rush, right?
Wrong, Danielle Rosellison said. She and her husband, Juddy, and two other owner/operating managers grow and process marijuana indoors at Trail Blazin’ Productions in Bellingham’s Irongate industrial area.
“No one is getting rich quick,” Danielle said. “We have the same tri- als and tribulations as any other small business.” Arguably more, since their industry is new, and nationally banned but state-allowed.
“I spend half my time on policy work,” Danielle said. She serves on the board of the Cannabis Alliance, a nonprofit within the industry. “I’m in Seattle or Olympia two days a week educating lawmakers and helping write policy. If we don’t, someone else will, and their information won’t be as good.”
Marijuana growing/processing is a startup business about like any other, but probably with more regulations. “People say, ‘You’re living the dream!’ But sometimes it’s a nightmare,” Danielle said.
That said, today’s numbers look good. Their product – pesticide-free, hand-trimmed, sustainably-grown – fills an up-market niche, and sells accordingly at $14-$18 a gram. Gross sales at Trail Blazin’ in 2015 totaled $430,000. Revenue in 2016 is on track to double that. And next year the company projects to double again.
EARLY DAYS: “SOMETHING ELSE”
The first months were a differ-
ent story. Trail Blazin’ got a lease in January 2014 and began fitting out their building in April of that year. They finished in August and obtained their license. But delivery of LED lights, an eco-conscious choice for their indoor growing, was delayed. That pushed harvest back to October. Add a couple of weeks to harvest, trim, and cure, and their product was ready.
But by that time so was outdoor product harvested by competitors. “Prices came down,” Danielle said. “Grams had been selling $8 to $12, (suddenly) they were $4 to $5. It was brutal.”
Trail Blazin’ made its first sale to retailers in January 2015. “Our motto’s been ‘slow and steady,’” Danielle said. “Our cost to produce is higher than outdoor growers. We went with LED lighting, the right sustainable choice, but that changes everything about how to grow.”
Seven years ago Danielle was a loan officer at a mortgage company. Juddy ran a bike and ski shop in Mount Vernon. “We had a good friend who put himself through college growing and selling cannabis,” Danielle said.
He graduated and moved on, but he thought it’d be a shame to let his (hor- ticultural) recipe go to waste.”
The Rosellisons got medical cards, and Juddy inherited four of their friend’s plants. He brought them home, shifted the washer and dryer, and started cultivating cannabis in the laundry room. In 2013 when vot- ers approved recreational marijuana, Juddy suggested that they apply for a license.
That was a year before legal rec- reational sales began even in the first state to make it legal, Colorado. “In 2013 landlords wouldn’t rent you space,” Danielle said. “Investors said, ‘Go away.’ We thought you had to have a location before you applied for a license. You didn’t. I put an ad on Craigslist seeking space.” That led to their location of 17,000 square feet.
Trail Blazin’ started with private monies pooled by those who own the business. Two private investors chipped in. The Rosellisons refi- nanced the mortgage on their home and on a rental house they own.
Danielle raised limits on credit cards. “Once this started we knew no one would give us credit. I told (the credit card companies) I was going to buy a car. We got the startup money. It cost way more than we thought it would.”
Trail Blazin’ was the first grower to get building permits. The city initially denied their request, citing it as too close to a privately-owned recreation center. Eventually the city approved, but the deal cost the company three months’ rent with no profit.
Trail Blazin’ sells six strains in the form of joints and flowers, also known as bud. They are working on process- ing marijuana into concentrates. They plan to offer those by the end of 2016.
Flower product consists of 15-30 percent cannabinoids. Concentrates vary from 50-100 percent. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the best-known cannabinoid and primary psychoactive compound. Another, cannabidiol, is known for medical benefits and is not psychoactive. Edibles and stronger strains help put illegal dealers out of business, but also encourage more people to take the drug, and in stronger forms, according to an editorial in The Economist.
By law in Washington, product gets weighed and sealed before leaving the processing facility. Retailers and consumers can’t open packages in a marijuana store. “Just like you can’t open a liquor bottle in a store and start chugging,” Danielle said. “They’d escort you out real fast.”
EMPLOYMENT, AND THE FUTURE
Their facility has capacity for 10,000 square feet of growing area. In the spring Trail Blazin’ was planting 4,000 of that. By end of summer they expect to have 60 percent of available space under cultivation.
They have four full-time and four part-time employees, plus 15 on-call trimmers. “A trim machine would be cheaper, but employing local people is more important,” Danielle said. The company is shifting part-time employ- ees to full-time.
The Rosellisons are busy parents of two children, in kindergarten and pre-school. As the children grow up they won’t be allowed to help in this industry. No one under 21 is allowed in the building.
Trail Blazin’ might franchise their techniques and name into other states. “We actively speak with other startups around the country, which carries great potential for expansion,” Danielle said. “Like in any business, it’s fun to dream about that. But make sure you’re solid at home first.”
Story by Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy