City awards first pot permit

June Hall and Paul Disdier authorized to grow pot on North Douglas property
June Hall and Paul Disdier talk on Feb. 18 at their attorney's office about their plans to permit and build one of the first legal marijuana grow sites in Juneau at their North Douglas property.

Juneau has issued its first conditional use permit for a marijuana business.

June Hall and Paul Disdier, of the Fireweed Factory LLC, celebrated with friends and soon-to-be industry competitors outside Assembly Chambers late Tuesday night after the city’s Planning Commission unanimously approved their CUP.

“I’m very relieved, and I’m happy for other North Douglas or D1 residents who want to get a grow operation going under the CUP process,” Hall told the Empire after the meeting.

During her testimony and in the CUP application, Hall explained that the name Fireweed Factory is somewhat of a misnomer. The business, a limited marijuana grow operation, is hardly a factory, she said. (They would’ve preferred the name Fireweed Farms, but it was already taken.)

In reality, the Fireweed Factory will look more like the Fireweed Shed from the outside, if it can be seen at all. The building in which Hall and Disdier will be growing will be no larger than a two-car garage, and it will be located behind trees and an existing shed on their North Douglas property.

Unassuming though it may appear on the outside, Hall, Disdier and several other public testifiers assured the Planning Commission that this grow operation is quite impressive.

“This operation is state of the art. It’s top of the line; it’s right there with the best of them,” James Barrett explained during public testimony. “From an industry standpoint, this is an awesome setup.”

Not to be confused with the owner of the now-demolished Gastineau Apartments, Barrett owns and operates Rainforest Farms LLC, a marijuana cultivation business, with his brother, Giono.

“This setup is immaculate,” Giono added later in the public participation period of Tuesday’s meeting. “I’ve seen a lot of setups, and this one is phenomenal.”

What makes it so impressive, according to the Barretts and other testifiers, is that it will run a closed-loop system, which means that all the water and air used in the growing process will be recycled. Nothing — other than marijuana and the people growing it — will leave the cultivation building.

The Barretts weren’t the only ones to testify in support of Hall and Disdier Tuesday night. Eight other people — a mix of friends, neighbors and industry professionals ­— spoke on their behalf during the meeting.

John Chapman lives next to Hall and Disdier, and though he didn’t support the ballot measure that legalized marijuana, he told the Planning Commission that he does support his neighbors.

“In all honesty, I voted against the initiative to legalize marijuana, so I’m kind of surprised I’m sitting here, but I fully support what they’re doing,” Chapman said. “I don’t smoke pot, but I’m behind them 100 percent. If anybody gets the right to do it, I hope it’s them.”

For an outside observer who only attended Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting, it would’ve been hard to tell that this CUP sparked controversy only a month ago.

In early February, public hearing notices ignited public outrage over the Assembly’s Nov. 9 decision to allow limited marijuana cultivation in some residential zones outside the urban service boundary. The matter even led to the dismissal of the commission’s chair, Nicole Grewe, whom Assembly members said damaged the public’s trust in the commission by not properly disclosing a potential conflict of interest. She lives less than 500 feet down the street from Hall and Disdier.

Only two people testified against the permit Tuesday, one of whom was Todd Boris, Grewe’s husband. He took issue with the fact that the Planning Commission was hearing Hall and Disdier’s CUP while there is still an outstanding marijuana ordinance waiting to be heard by the Assembly.

“We can all just go at a slower pace and make sure the process is right,” Borris told the commission.

His point was not a new one. During at least two commission meetings, Grewe asked her then-fellow commissioners if they were interested in postponing any marijuana CUP hearings until after all marijuana-related ordinances had been passed. Her requests never garnered any support.

Though the commission didn’t heed Boris’ request, it did take reasonable steps to make sure that Hall and Disdier will comply with any regulations that Assembly members might add to the marijuana ordinance that will be before them at their next work session.

At the request of commissioner Michael LeVine, the commission added a stipulation to the CUP requiring Hall and Disdier to comply with any potential future regulations. It would also allow the commission to revisit their CUP within the next three months if the Assembly makes any substantial changes to conditional use permit requirements in the ordinance before it.

Before it passed, Planning Commission Chair Ben Haight spoke in favor of the motion.

“This application has set a standard,” he said. “It’s putting that bar up where it will be a good measure for us.”

• Contact reporter Sam DeGrave at 523-2279 or sam.degrave@juneauempire.com.

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