Port Angeles man seeks permit to grow pot

Charges under review after plants found in December

PORT ANGELES — A businessman who owns five parcels where more than 3,100 illegal marijuana plants were seized Dec. 8 is seeking a conditional use permit to legally grow and produce hydroponic pot in Port Angeles.

Dong Mai of Port Angeles would convert and quadruple the size of an existing 3,800-square-foot RV repair shop on property he owns on Nicholas Road off the south end of the Tumwater Truck Route, turning it into a commercial marijuana operation employing up to four people.

But Mai would have to buy a state license for the pot business from another licensed grower and producer because there are none available for Port Angeles, state Liquor and Cannabis Board spokesperson Julie Graham said Wednesday.

“We have zero new permits available so they would need to either buy a permit from someone who already owns one, (they would still have to submit the true parties of interest, the criminal info, and the sale could be denied if the new owners did not meet our standards, etc.) or they would need to already have one elsewhere and apply for a change of address,” she said in an email.

The conditional use permit being processed by the Department of Community and Economic Development was submitted by Soho Herbals LLC, which Mai owns, on Nov. 18.

Three weeks later, the regional Olympic Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Team raided five Port Angeles-area parcels owned by Mai.

Warrants were served in the 400 block of Diamond Vista Drive, 4300 block of South Old Mill Road, 3800 block of South Airport Road, 1200 block of West 10th Street and 4300 block of Nicholas Road.

Brian King, Clallam County Sheriff’s chief criminal deputy, said Wednesday that officers confiscated 582 plants at Mai’s Nicholas Road parcel, where pot was being grown hydroponically.

The marijuana was shipped in large quantities outside of Washington state, King said afterwards.

The value of confiscated pot from all five locations, including 370 pounds of processed marijuana, was between $5 million and $10 million, he said.

Julie Gardiner of Port Angeles, representing Mai for the permit, said Wednesday that Mai denied growing or knowing about the marijuana. She said the properties were occupied by renters who have since disappeared from the area.

Mai did not respond Wednesday to an email for comment and could not be reached by phone.

He has ownership, either as sole owner or as co-owner, of 13 properties in Port Angeles and Sequim, according to assessor’s office records.

“In the case of these [tenants], five tenants of rental houses disappeared overnight,” Gardiner said Wednesday.

“Dong didn’t know them and doesn’t know where they went, and he’s never been charged.

“From our perspective, it looks like he was the one being taken advantage of.

“He was not the one doing the grow.”

King said Wednesday he recently found out about Mai’s conditional use permit application.

King had said after the bust that Mai was not arrested pending a continuing investigation.

He said Wednesday the sheriff’s office has forwarded a recommendation to the prosecuting attorney’s office that Mai be charged with five counts of illegally manufacturing marijuana and five counts of unlawful use of a building for drug purposes. Both are Class C felonies.

“We believe at this point in the investigation that there is enough information for us to make a well-informed charging decision,” King said.

Materials submitted in the referral by the sheriff’s office are “voluminous,” Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nichols said Wednesday in an email.

“Consequently, it will take some time to review and make a charging decision.”

A felony criminal conviction would have an impact on Mai obtaining a license from the state Liquor and Cannabis Board.

The board conducts a criminal history check of marijuana license applicants, using a point system to determine if a person is qualified to grow, process or sell pot.

“The [Liquor and Cannabis Board] will not normally issue a marijuana license or renew a license to an applicant who has accumulated eight or more points,” according to the Washington Administrative Code.

Twelve points are assigned for 10 years to an applicant with a felony conviction.

“If an applicant does have a criminal history, it does not automatically disqualify them from being approved because the licensing staff look to see what the circumstances are,” Graham said.

“For instance, if a 65-year-old applicant had a conviction for something as an 18-year-old but did nothing since, that might not disqualify them from getting a license.”

The DCED will issue a staff report on the permit application by March 19. A hearing examiner will make a final decision.

Graham said it is not mandatory for an applicant to show that the property is zoned for growing and producing marijuana for the applicant to apply for the state license.

But the Liquor and Cannabis Board would notify city officials that they intend to issue a marijuana license and ask if there are any concerns before it’s granted.

“If we hear a negative review or response from the city, we take that into consideration, and that would accrue points against issuance of a license,” Graham said.

“Negative feedback from the community would be considered, but they do not need an active, final [conditional use] permit.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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