Google the name Steve Murphy and you may find information on a DEA agent who helped bring down Pablo Escobar, or a handful of others who are lawyers, minor politicos, musicians, and sports figures. What you will not find, but should is this Steve Murphy, owner of The Indoor Sun Shoppe. A man who had a good idea and backed it up with action.
In October of 1970, Steve was 22 and working at the big Seattle Hostess Bakery in the wee hours, and doing construction with his dad during the day; while also studying chemistry at Shoreline Community College. He was also fond of cannabis. Recreational drug use was fairly common in the late 1960’s, and law enforcement and the government were beginning to ramp up a response. Steve had already experimented in growing cannabis indoors and realized he could create a safe market for others to get equipment and do the same. The idea felt like such a blinding inspiration that he went straight to the University area and rented a little storefront. Within 45 minutes of having the idea, The Indoor Sun Shoppe was born. The Boeing employment bust was beginning to be serious, having begun nearly a year earlier, but fear is not Steve’s style. Immediately stocking items like fluorescents and nutrients, he also got plants to dress the place up. Then he had to replace them, as the plants began to sell out. Jill, his wife, kept busy running the store, while Steve continued to work his regular jobs and added store hours to his timetable. Two weeks later, on the other side of the country, Congress passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, listing marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, on the newly created list of classes of drugs. Supposedly, substances in Schedule I have a high potential for abuse, no accredited medical use, and a lack of accepted safety. Marijuana is still listed there, thus our federal dilemma.
As the store sales started to rise, books on growing cannabis were beginning to appear. Here was his second great idea: Instead of carrying other people’s books, he would write his own! The first book was written, and Steve and a friend drove from Seattle to Los Angeles, stopping at every head shop and alternative bookstore on the way, selling a few books at a time. They started with 3,000 books, sold out, and took orders for cases of them on the way back. This first book was published in 1973, the same year the DEA was established. Ultimately, 300,000 copies of the first book were sold, including an issue in German. What do you do with money earned from that? Buy a 40-foot sailboat and go with some friends to Hawaii.
Great idea number three? High Intensity Discharge (HID) lights. Now there truly was an Indoor Sun. More books were written, with a catalogue for ordering equipment in the back of the books. All of these things had to be done in a very discreet manner: books written under pseudonyms, a catalogue company run by a different person, and no mention of cannabis in the actual store, but to increase your sales, you need to expand on advertising. High Times carried an inside cover ad for these products. One of the top growers and breeders in Washington remembered how he felt when he ordered one of the lights and first saw it powered up. He was stunned. He was holding the sun in his hands. This was 1979 in Alaska and these lights changed the face of indoor growing.
Meanwhile, the DEA was expanding their bootprints and targeting garden stores to investigate the low-hanging fruit of individual growers. Born out of the Nixon Administration, they had a large bag of dirty tricks. Operation Green Merchant was aimed at stores that advertised in certain magazines, High Times being one of them. On August 26, 1989, a massive federal raid was conducted in 46 states. DEA agents arrested people, confiscated, and destroyed businesses and lives in their overzealousness to stamp out recreational cannabis use. At The Indoor Sun Shoppe, the files, lights, and nutrients were taken, but no one was arrested. They could not take the soil, the truck was full. After they were gone, Steve went to his suppliers, got more equipment, and was open the next day. No one was busted in connection with purchases at The Indoor Sun Shoppe; they kept their files clean of such information.
Some months later, the DEA had an auction in Seattle, selling much of the equipment they had confiscated from shops at 10 cents on the wholesale dollar. Steve’s property was not in the auction, as he had not been charged with anything. He also had not received his property back. At the auction, Steve saw one of his friends who worked for King 5 NEWS. Wondering about the logic of selling this equipment to the public so cheaply, when it was seized to keep it from being sold to the public, became a question posed to the attendant DEA. The top agent then recognized Steve, cancelled his bids, and kicked him out of the auction. Steve continued his legal fight and was able to get all of his confiscated property back. It took two years and two months.
In 1998, medical marijuana became legal in Washington State. Still, growing cannabis was not allowed to be mentioned in the store, as the DEA continued to run sting operations. (Medical marijuana patients would go in all excited about being able to create their own medicine, only to have their hopes dashed if they mentioned cannabis and were asked to leave the store. This was just as painful to the people working there as it was for the patient.) The Indoor Sun Shoppe remained busy even though there were new garden stores in town.
Legalization arrived three years ago, and the scene has shifted. Steve is semi-retired; his son Shaun keeps things running. Big money runs recreational cannabis grows and big box stores have appeared to accommodate them. The oldest grow shop in America has to compete with online entities that don’t actually have to pay for a storefront; they can drop-ship orders from their suppliers to their customers, selling cheaper, but with no hands-on help.
The Indoor Sun Shoppe changed the world when it made indoor growing attainable by the masses. It survived the enmity of the DEA, and protected their customers while supplying them with the latest in growing equipment. It has been a labor of love. Shop there and you can feel it; the sense of community and caring is an intrinsic part of the people there. And the community needs to support them back; TISS people are the ones who have made it possible for the cannabis community to thrive and grow for so many years.
After the years of not being able to talk about cannabis in their store, the Murphys are still reticent about their exposure; being written about is a major about-face for them. With this exposure, comes a willingness to talk to their customers about growing cannabis, and they now make themselves available as consultants. This is still iffy from the federal perspective, but they realize that for The Indoor Sun Shoppe to continue, more of the local cannabis growers and patients need to see the treasure trove that is the store. In addition to about 150 years of aggregate knowledge of growing all sorts of plants, there are thousands of houseplants and a special large section of carnivorous plants. There will soon be a new book section, featuring the best in cannabis books, and nutrients and equipment of the best quality. There isn’t much of an online presence; this is a smaller family business and they just don’t have the personnel they say but the real treasure here is the advice, which has flowed freely for 40 years.