Flamboyant pot retailer doubles down on cannabis

Marijuana retailer Tedd Wetherbee is expanding his two-store enterprise to four this month despite the cloudy future of legal pot under President Donald Trump.
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Marijuana retailer Tedd Wetherbee is expanding his two-store enterprise to four this month despite the cloudy future of legal pot under President Donald Trump.
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Marijuana

Despite concerns about marijuana’s future, Pierce County dealer doubles down

By Derrick Nunnally

dnunnally@thenewstribune.com

March 10, 2017 05:51 PM

Tedd Wetherbee, the Parkland marijuana dealer who took Pierce County and Fife to court over attempts to block locations of his retail-weed store The Gallery, has reacted to the threat of federal action against legalized pot in typically flamboyant fashion.

He’s going from two stores to five, if he can pull it off.

This week, he was scrambling to open a Puyallup store in a few days, with the shop in Fife slated to follow in the spring. Yet another is planned for elsewhere in the county in coming months.

“We fight,” he said. “That’s all you can do.”

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That Wetherbee, 49, is undaunted by the anti-marijuana stance of new U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is of a piece with his personal history.

He has engaged in court and political fights to open his stores, losing in Gig Harbor, landing a settlement to permit his store in Fife and winning a court fight against a prohibition in unincorporated Pierce County.

With Gallery co-owner Mike Henery, he put nearly $200,000 into battling a referendum to ban marijuana shops in those same areas and got what he wanted: A vote that, despite being a loss, remained close enough to contest the idea of an anti-marijuana mandate.

And he is unafraid to boast about it.

“If Mike and I hadn’t done what we did in the county,” Wetherbee said in his Parkland office, “the other 12 licensees in Pierce County at large wouldn’t be open today. They would’ve run right over them.”

Reported February retail sales of $842,199 place his marijuana enterprise as the second-largest in the county before any of the new stores sells a joint. Only two stores statewide sold more.

That doesn’t account for whatever Wetherbee makes from his various marijuana-related enterprises, from the glassware, T-shirts and accessories he sells next door to his Parkland spot to the $2 transaction fee on the cash machines that blink away in the corner of the shop — which, like all pot retailers, is cash-only.

“It’s a substantial revenue stream,” he said of the ATM fee. He declined to give a number.

The hustle extends to the parking lot: His black Tesla Model S bears a vanity license plate that reads INHALE.

A flamboyant background

This flashiness, all the way to silk handkerchiefs in the pockets of his Euro-slim suits, is perhaps incongruous for a man whose career is “slinging weed, and lots of it” on the side of a busy suburban highway.

His neighbors in the 13000 block of Pacific Avenue South in Parkland are a pawn shop and a used-car lot. The store he describes as “an art gallery that happens to sell marijuana” is a 56-year-old cinderblock structure that formerly housed a gun store.

His other locations are similarly unglamorous.

In Puyallup, his new spot soon will open on Canyon Road in a former Umpqua Bank building joined to a real-estate brokerage. In Fife, his location is a strip mall where a drugstore used to be. During a court fight over his Spanaway store, his attorney called the unremarkable storefront “the most aesthetically pleasing building” on a stretch of highway it shared with junkyards, defunct auto shops and convenience stores.

He would not say where else in the county he has obtained property for his planned fifth store, and the assessor’s office could find no record of new acquisitions under the corporate names Wetherbee uses elsewhere.

He sat in his Parkland shop on a recent weekday in a gray tweed suit accented in navy-blue windowpane plaid, his shirt open to mid-chest as he reminisced about the $100,000 he spent to throw a store-opening party featuring rapper 2Chainz in November.

“I always dress like this,” he said. “We intend to stand out.”

Yes, he’s a transplant.

Born in Florida, he attended Florida State University, operated a restaurant and nightclub, then moved to Switzerland after a vacation there led to a job offer with the United Nations.

Wetherbee said he befriended Kojo Annan, the son of former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who connected him to business opportunities in Lagos, Nigeria. Kojo Annan did not respond to an email.

In Nigeria, he worked on government and equipment deals. A news story from 2003 lists Wetherbee as a head chef for that year’s All Africa games in Nigeria. It was, he said, one of many ventures he helped arrange, a $24 million contract to feed athletes and support crews.

“I ran a project, and they gave me a chef’s coat and a title,” he said.

An endorsement from Amos Adamu, head organizer of those games, is prominent on Wetherbee’s website. Adamu has been implicated in several bribery scandals and in February received his second multiyear ban from international soccer for unethical behavior.

Adamu could not be located for comment.

Globehopper turns Washington pot slinger

Life brought Wetherbee to Tacoma via his wife Tiffani, who grew up in Gig Harbor. They met in Lagos, moved to a Mexican fishing village, then came to the South Sound in 2007, after they became parents.

Wetherbee said he came intending to live retired as a stay-at-home dad of two with money from his business dealings.

Then marijuana legalization came up. He brought a familiarity with the substance.

“I’ve smoked marijuana practically every day of my life since I was 18 years old,” he said, “and I’m very successful.”

He met Henery at the Gig Harbor country club they both belong to. The two fell in together over the idea of turning marijuana’s legalization into their profit. Henery, who grew up in Burlington, is the third generation of his family to work in retail.

They worked up a plan to aimed at unincorporated Pierce County. Compared to larger cities, the real estate was cheaper and there was less competition for the limited pool of retail licenses.

“We didn’t want to go into Seattle and vie for 21 licenses with 6,000 people,” Wetherbee said.

The pair received five of the 17 licenses allocated to unincorporated Pierce County. Before opening his Parkland store in 2015, Wetherbee began making the rounds of other marijuana retailers to learn what other operations would share.

Marijuana, it turns out, is a more collegial than cutthroat business, at least in Pierce County.

Damien McDivitt, owner of Mary Mart, recalled Wetherbee visiting his Tacoma shop and talking business plans.

“There’s enough room for us all to exist,” McDivitt said, “and I don’t think there’s any reason to go after each others’ customers.”

Wetherbee did find a hitch the others didn’t.

Because he wanted to open in the county’s smaller cities, he had to deal with a variety of local officials. Gig Harbor, where he lives, wouldn’t allow him to open up shop.

He and Henery looked elsewhere, and after court fights and the spring 2016 referendum election, appeared set with open shops and plans to grow.

“He really kept pushing and really kept gaining ground,” said Shawn Sortland, co-owner of Tacoma’s Clear Choice Cannabis, the top-selling marijuana store in Pierce County, “and I really respect him for doing that.”

With two stores open, Wetherbee said he has counted 150,000 customers.

“We’ve had to triple our forecasts,” he said.

For now, by law, their partnership can run only three stores. They hope the Legislature will pass a bill raising that limit in time for their anticipated May opening of the Fife store, which would be their fourth.

Wetherbee isn’t the only Pierce County marijuana retailer who believes the profits green-light business growth.

Sortland said Clear Choice — which took in $1,125,198 from February marijuana sales, according to 502data.com — will likely open a second store in a few months, but elsewhere in the state.

“We feel confident to move forward on this,” Sortland said. “It’s something where I think the cat is out of the bag, you know?”

Growing like a ...

This week, the details of getting the Puyallup store ready for opening consumed much of Wetherbee’s energy.

He watched workers assemble chairs and tables and said the store eventually will replace Parkland as his corporate headquarters. He pulled the energy-use stickers off of six flat screen televisions, arranged in a bank on a back-office wall so he can watch all five shops from one chair.

When the real-estate office next door runs out its lease in 10 months, he said, he’ll open a glassware and accessories shop there, as in Parkland. Asked if 2Chainz would be coming to its opening, he paused and suggested Rihanna was a possibility. He did not clarify whether he was joking.

He and Henery each said the tax revenues from marijuana sales mean their line of business probably has enough backing from state government to resist any federal attempt at shutdown.

As he stood in the lobby of his newest pot enterprise, puffing a Marlboro Gold, Wetherbee considered again what he might do if Attorney General Sessions declares that marijuana prohibition is back in force.

“We have full confidence that we’ll be here for many, many years to come,” he said.

And if not?

“We’ll move to Canada.”

Derrick Nunnally: 253-597-8693, @dcnunnally