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Washington State Issues First Legal Pot Business License

<p>A medical marijuana dispensary operator received the first license to grow marijuana in Washington state. His bank's not happy.</p>
Image: Recreational Marijuana Sales Begin in Colorado
Marijuana plants are seen under multi-colored grow lights in the growing rooms at the Denver Discreet Dispensary in Denver, Colo. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows a majority of Americans say they support legislative efforts to legalize the drug.BOB PEARSON / EPA
/ Source: Associated Press

Washington issued its first legal marijuana business license Wednesday, launching a new phase in the state's ambitious effort to regulate a market that has been illegal for more than 75 years.

Image: Sean Green received the first legal marijuana license in Washington state.
Sean Green displays his new Washington state legal marijuana license at a presentation March 5 in Olympia, Wash. Green, a medical marijuana dispensary operator from Spokane, was issued the producer-processor license under the state's recreational pot law at the Liquor Control Board meeting.Elaine Thompson / AP

Sean Green, who has operated medical marijuana dispensaries in Spokane and the Seattle suburb of Shoreline, proclaimed the document "beautiful" as it was handed to him at the state Liquor Control Board's meeting in Olympia.

The license will allow him to grow 21,000 square feet of cannabis at his Spokane facility — the first pot that will be grown for sale under the highly taxed system approved by voters in 2012.

"Cannabis prohibition is over," Green declared to applause from a room packed with his supporters. "I'm coming home with jobs, Spokane."

Sales began Jan. 1 in Colorado, the only other state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana by adults over 21. But Colorado already had a regulated medical marijuana system and simply began by allowing medical dispensaries to sell recreational pot; Washington had no regulated medical system, and had to start from the ground up.

Washington's first pot shop is expected to open in June or July. The board expects to issue 334 retail licenses statewide.

Green is chief executive of Spokane's Kouchlock Productions, a company named for the phenomenon of being too stoned to get off the couch. The board's three members credited the hard work he did to meet all the requirements to obtain a license, including passing criminal and financial background checks, developing a board-approved business plan and finding a location that wasn't too close to schools or daycares.

But even the issuance of the first license underscored the hurdles the industry faces. Pot remains illegal under federal law, and despite recent guidance from the U.S. Treasury and Justice Departments, banks continue to be wary of doing business with marijuana businesses.

Just last week, Green said, he learned his bank was closing his account because of Kouchlock's connection to marijuana.

-The Associated Press