SEAVIEW — H.J. Norris was a pioneer in the fledgling industry of legal retail marijuana sales, opening one of Washington state’s first-generation stores in Raymond in late 2014. Having now relocated near the key U.S. Highway 101/State Route 103 intersection, Norris recently reflected on his experiences and observations at the end of cannabis prohibition.
Did you ever envision yourself owning and operating a pot shop?
“No. I was a teetotaler. I don’t drink, smoke or hangout in taverns — except Long Beach Tavern because they have good pizza. I was raised in a house where my folks smoked and socially drank, but it was just never my thing. My thing was to hike 20 miles or go fishing in Alaska for a month. Drugs and alcohol just never fit into my equation.”
What’s your stance on marijuana now?
“I’m an extreme advocate of cannabis now. Over the past three years, I’ve have had so many customers come into my store that it’s changed my perspective. I’ve had people walk in with cancer who were told they wouldn’t be here in six months and they’re now clear and in remission from taking high CBH, low-THC cannabis on a regular, disciplined basis. I’ve had people come with bone-on-bone arthritis. After using our tinctures, topical and salves, they’re able to move their hands now. My mother is one of them. Now she goes down to the senior center and tells everyone that they need to come see me, that I’ve got stuff will help. We’ve all been brainwashed that cannabis is bad. The amount of good I see cannabis doing is huge. I started using the salve on my hands. It’s the best dry skin ointment I’ve ever found.”
“It was strictly an opportunity, only once in a lifetime does a government allow something that had been taboo for 75 years. I had some friends that were already in it. They told me Washington was going to put a lottery up and that I would be crazy, with my business experience, if I didn’t apply. I applied eight times and got accepted for Pacific County. I met (Port of Willapa Harbor Manager) Rebecca Chaffee and she was like the fairy godmother of pot. Nobody was leasing their buildings at the port, everything was empty. Rebecca and the city council welcomed the cannabis industry as an opportunity to spark interest in the area. We gave it three solid years in that location, but the demographics didn’t pan out eight months out of the year. It was a hard decision to leave the people who helped us get going, but at least we’re still in Pacific County and contributing to it.”
How’s business been since you relocated from Raymond to Seaview?
“Since we’ve relocated from Raymond to Seaview business has almost quadrupled. It has far exceeded what I was hoping for.”
How has it been different? Is it simply more customers coming in?
“There’s larger year-round population here and they’re older. The Baby Boomers have disposable income and retirement funds. The demographic and economics of Raymond and South Bend are different — a lot of the people are laid off six to eight months out of the year and a lot of them are on unemployment or don’t have a lot of income. Every weekend since we’ve been here (starting Jan. 9) we’ve had good traffic.”
What did you expect?
“I had high expectations, but it’s far exceeded them and we haven’t even hit the tourist season yet. We’re trying to gear up and see how many personnel we’ll need. Tourist season will all start [this] month and it will be a real challenge to see how we can handle it.”
What were your concerns going into the marijuana business?
“I knew it would be a struggle because I already knew at what rate the state was going to tax it. When we started it was 75 percent, the grower paid 25 percent, the processor paid 25 percent and the retailer paid 25 percent. That’s what we went through the first year. It was terrible. We’re still paying 45 percent, but really we should be pounding on the state to get it down to 15 or 20 percent. That would be realistic.”
How is the industry evolving?
“We’ve seen the changes in taxation from 75 to 45 percent. We’ve seen the number of growers and processors increase. In July, the state decided to allow medical stores to come into business without being in a lottery, which I thought was totally wrong. The other thing we’ve seen change is the number of strains available. There are 14 cannabinoids in the plant that we know of, and they’re discovering more every month. We’re also seeing improved regulation with regard to pesticides. We have nine vendors in our store and three-quarters are organic. I also think the general public is beginning to accept that cannabis can be a true aid. People are also finally looking at the cannabis industry as a true career. The two employees we have, one came from California and one from Idaho. They came here strictly to pursue this as a career. The first year or two we had people applying that just wanted free samples.”
Do you have a favorite strain?
“The one I like the best is PHD. We buy it from a grower called Typhoon Yolanda in Ocean Shores. It’s a husband and wife and he’s a retired Boeing engineer and she used to run a fruit stand. They do about 400 plants a year outdoors. They’re like me — they’re so passionate. They eat, breathe and sleep this stuff in order to make it work.”