Washington’s Cannabis market has gone through a lot of change since 2012, and Joshua Shade has been a part of the industry from those early medical collectives and donations to patients and has adapted and thrived in the recreational space where so many MMJ businesses did not make the transition. With the recent opening of the Kushery’s ‘At The Dealership’ location on Evergreen Way in Everett, there were nearly a dozen elected officials, including two mayors, all present to watch the ribbon-cutting ceremony and presentation of donations to several cancer patients and organizations. We sat down with Shade to talk about his history in MMJ, the transition and the pros/cons of the new legal market, and why giving back to patients still matters in today’s Cannabis industry.
What inspired you to take the risk and open a medical collective (dispensary) and start providing medicine to patients?
I like helping people and dealing with the public, and my main thing was to provide patients with the good weed I was growing. It was pretty nerve-wracking at times to be scared that the DEA was coming in, and worrying that all our hard work could get seized, it was scary back in the day. But I loved it – I loved people coming in and changing their lives. Plus, I wanted to share all the great weed I was growing at that time.
There was a real sense back then that Cannabis was helping people. What’s your favorite memory of working with patients?
My favorite day I ever had, a patient came in who we knew had cancer, who wasn’t terminal but very sick – and he came in and said, ‘I have no idea how, but my cancer is gone!” He was able to skip chemotherapy because of Cannabis. That same day, we had another patient come in who was terminal, and he told us his doctor had given him two months to live instead of two weeks, which for anyone dealing with end of life, is precious time. And I’ve told that story so many times because it really was a special day.
How many years was Woodinville Quality Collective Open, which was your name before the Kushery’s became a company, and what was it like to close the doors?
We were open all the way until the last day the State closed the MMJ program in July of 2016. My last customer was my second customer, we’d planned on it, and it brought tears to my eyes. I knew we were going into something bigger and that it was going to change not just Washington, but the entire world – but it was a sad day. Back then people would come in and say thank you for taking care of me and being open. It’s definitely different than now, where the customer attitude is that ‘I can go to any store for the same products.’ Medical provided a unique experience where you got to know your customer much more deeply.
How did the Kushery first get opened, and what were the early days of recreational Cannabis sales like?
We got pretty lucky in the lottery and were awarded four licenses, and to get some extra income, we sold one and used that money to open our first stores. The first store is in Clearview, which opened April 2015. We were lucky that all our staff wanted to stay, and we definitely appreciated that. I didn’t like the prices that 502 had in the beginning, because I knew that after the first harvest prices would plummet, and the people taking advantage and wholesaling weed at eight dollars a gram would stop. I told people the market was crazy, that it was going to change drastically. Success in this industry is all about building relationships.
Tell us about the journey from one store to a chain, one store at a time.
We opened our second location in Cathcart, August 2015, then Lake Forest Park November 2015. Our sister store, Last Stop Pot Shop in Gold Bar, opened March 2016. Then the Kushery Stanwood March of 2019, and finally our newest Evergreen Way location in September of this year. The whole process has been extremely stressful, and each store has had its ups and downs. The first couple were stressful regarding the state being extremely stringent, even though we had great Liquor Control Board Officers in the beginning. It’s a flip of the coin with LCB Officers, where nine out of 10 are great, but if you get the one who doesn’t like Cannabis, it can literally bring you to tears. We’ve also had great landlords, landlords who tried to gouge us but still treated us well, and landlords who just outright gouged us. And that’s why we bought our Evergreen Way location, which I invested my life savings into.
To open the location in Everett you had to lobby the city council to change a moratorium on new locations, where they had only allowed five shops to open. What was the process like to lobby and get several new licenses approved, not just your own, in a win for greater access to Cannabis in the city?
In 2016, Everett City Council put a limit on how many shops could open. There were 10 original licenses between the lottery and MMJ licenses awarded later, which is how we got our license. We started three years ago to begin lobbying, using local lobbyist Josh Estes. And you can’t just lift the cap to let yourself in, so we had to lobby for the cap to raise overall. The council can add one, or five, or whatever they want, and so we began donating and doing everything within the law to help support Liz Vogeli get elected to the council, and help explain the situation to the council through testimony, including several local cancer patients. In the end, we were successful in lifting the ban – bringing in three new licenses to Everett.
You began donating to cancer patients with your medical collective. Why is it important to you to continue this work, especially with the shift from MMJ to recreational?
During our time in MMJ, we would give away free or heavily discounted Cannabis, and we gave a 50% discount to any cancer patient or terminally ill person for years. It always made the job better to hear the stories of how donating medicine had a positive impact, and unfortunately, with recreational Cannabis, it’s really not possible to give out medicine directly to patients. So we chose to give back by supporting charities and families directly with cash donations. Our lobbyist and photographer both have had children with cancer, and we know how much it means to help.
How did it feel to have nearly a dozen elected officials and two mayors at your ribbon-cutting ceremony?
When we opened, we lived in fear of the DEA every day – and now we have this opportunity to be a part of the community and political process. It felt great, and it was wonderful looking out to the employees that have been here since the beginning. We have people that have gone from budtenders to regional managers, and our core people from WQC are still here. I’m blessed to have our team still with me, it feels like I have succeeded. And this new store will be a location where the employees will be able to make a good living – and I will be able to take care of the people that have taken care of me.
Your new location on Evergreen Way is massive! What are your plans for the future?
This was an auto dealership for over 50 years, and was purpose-built for Hyundai when they first launched the car brand in America. It’s 16,000 square feet and has parking for over 50 cars, and the dispensary is only part of the entire space. In the future, I would like to add a brewery or taphouse, and someday – if or when we are allowed to do consumption – we would have an easy transition and space to expand. I would really like to get a hold of other Snohomish County businesses and have a cup or event here this summer, as long as the LCB gives approval. We have a lot of space and want to bring the community together for an event, and are excited for the future as we grow into the new ‘At The Dealership’ location!