Steve Lee, co-owner of the flourishing Green2Go cannabis dispensary in the Tri-Cities area, is running for city council in Kennewick, a resolutely anti-cannabis community in southeastern Washington. Lee, a lifelong Kennewick local knows what (and who) makes this town tick. He announced his candidacy on April 12, 2017, and his first ad hit newspapers on April 20. With the Benton County primaries coming up in August, we thought this would be the perfect time to ask him some questions.
DOPE Magazine: Can we get some background as to why you’re running for city council?
Steve Lee: I’ve always wanted to run for office, even as a little kid. In the fourth grade I got to go to Washington D.C. for peer mediation training and speak to congress as this little politically active child. And I worked as a campaign organizer in 2007 and 2008, so I got a good taste of politics from being on the job. On top of that, I’m from Kennewick. I’m a local boy and I’ve been here all my life . . . my wife and I realized that if we could convince people that cannabis isn’t an issue—which we don’t think it is—then I started to look like a really good candidate; I’m actually qualified to step forward civically, and help out the community.
Q: What’s the general attitude toward cannabis in Kennewick?
A: It’s staunchly negative, and that’s the sticky wicket in all of this. We live in a very rural, conservative, agricultural and government-funded community. I’ve been in the cannabis industry for over a decade, and you have to behave a certain way when you live in a small town. You’ve got to be friends with everybody; you can’t have people mad at you. You’ve got to do good business. You’ve got to do right by people . . . the real thought [for me] is to say, “Hey, we make tax revenue, we make jobs and we help your mom with her arthritis.” If we can climb out of that one box, get over that one little speed bump of “Cannabis is corrupting our youth and it’s the devil weed!” (because there’s a lot of that in our community), then it should be an easy ride.
Q: How do you plan to win people over?
A: I think the basis of genuine small-town politics is giving a shit. It’s caring about your community. It’s being there for the right reasons. So, I’ve got that. But, it gets ruined when people start treating it like The West Wing rather than Parks and Rec, if you get my drift. A local city council race isn’t something you have a war-room over. Some do—don’t get me wrong—there are people of all types. But I believe that a city council race, on a local level, where it really is neighborhood by neighborhood, is all about brute-force niceness, and that’s sort of been our thing from day one.
Q: Being a cannabis man, how will that affect the decisions you make in office?
A: Well, I think the answer to that is also the answer to another question, and that’s “What makes me different than every other white dude running for public office in every part of America right now?” You know, it’s a fair question. I think one of the biggest problems in our community—among the powerful in our area—is the inability to connect and empathize with the youth, with the poor, the working poor, the lower middle class and Hispanics. So, being pro-youth and pro-diversity is my number one thing.
Because I’ve been in this community selling cannabis for a very long time, I have inroads in the Hispanic community, the youth community, the senior community, the sick, the poor and the middle-class communities, all the way up. Few occupations could so well prepare me to identify with the vast swaths of different kinds of people in our community as cannabis.
Q: What do you love most about Kennewick?
A: That’s tough…right now, I think the coolest thing about Kennewick is that in the next 15 or 20 years we can be bigger and more important than Spokane or Tacoma. We’re consistently one of the fastest growing communities, with some of the best economic opportunities in the country. Land out here is cheap and plentiful, and the schools are great. If we market our community right, [Kennewick] is in a good position to be the new economic center for Eastern Washington with its own distinct culture, economic growth and industries. I mean, what a cool time to get involved!