Cheney Free Press -


By John McCallum

Cheney's first marijuana business is a family-affair


John McCallum

When it comes to their new marijuana production and processing business, Bill (left) and Chris Youngs want to make the family operation a responsible, community-oriented business.

Maybe no other newly created industry has faced as many hurdles than the fledgling recreational marijuana industry. Just ask Bill and Chris Youngs.

The brothers are owners of Cheney Hydroponics, the city's first foray into the yet to actually be launched industry created by voter approval of Initiative 502 in November 2012 legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

So far, the Youngs have been accepted to apply for one of the state's first marijuana producer/processor licenses. Bill Youngs has attended several public meetings regarding Cheney's new marijuana facility zoning regulations to provide testimony and answer questions, listening at times to emotional testimony from residents opposed to the new industry.

They've gone through lengthy negotiations for land in the city's Commerce and Industrial Park, finally culminating with an agreement signed March 11 to purchase two lots totaling 42,511 square feet for $90,931, on which to build Cheney Hydroponics' 6,500-square-foot facility. Now, not only do they need to go through the permitting process with the city but, more importantly and prior, must gain final approval for their operation from the state Liquor Control Board.

That involved filling out 10 separate forms, some up to nine pages long and containing questions requiring information ranging from personal background to operational parameters to banking. As of March 21, the Youngs had put more than 100 hours into the forms to meet the March 31 deadline.

But as might be expected of a pair of individuals with advanced education, they weren't going to be content with just doting the "I's" and crossing the "T's."

"There's a nice energy that develops when sitting down with another person or two and taking on a common task," Bill Youngs said during the interview at his home's book-filled, two-level loft study. "We're hoping to do a model application."

Youngs experienced this energy when he wrote his 1997 book "The Fair and the Falls," about Spokane's Worlds Fair in 1974. The Eastern Washington University history professor is also known for his delivery of Patrick Henry's famous "Give me Liberty," speech.

The brothers grew up in Bloomington, Ind. where their father was a mathematics professor at the University of Indiana. During the early years of the atomic age in the 1950s, mathematicians were in high demand with the government, leading the Youngs to spend a lot of their summers in Southern California where their father worked for the Rand Corporation.

"We don't know (what he did), we'll just leave it at that," Chris Youngs said.

The Youngs brothers are the only siblings, and ended up going to Taft Boarding School in Connecticut. After graduation, Bill attended Harvard, receiving his undergraduate degree, and followed that with a master's and doctorate from the University of California-Berkeley.

Chris Youngs attended the San Francisco Art Institute, experiencing the 1960s cultural revolution that began in that city. He eventually moved to Canada and began a career as curator/director at art galleries, at one point becoming the director of art for 13 years at the Freedman Gallery at Albright College in Reading, Pa. He now lives in Toronto.

Bill Youngs accepted a job as history professor with Eastern Washington State College, moving to Cheney in 1972. His exposure to marijuana to this point has been nil, he said, and the only reason he began looking into venturing into the industry came from several members of his close-knit family, who have experience in the medical marijuana field.

"It really has come together as a result of various skills and knowledge that our family has," he said.

Their business will be tightly controlled. For starters, Cheney Hydroponics' entire operation will be indoors.

Hydroponic farming, a subset of hydroculture where plants are grown using mineral solutions in water without soil, has been known for decades and is used to grow vegetables such as lettuce and tomatoes. According to a Wikipedia article, the earliest published work on growing terrestrial plants without soil was Francis Bacon's "Sylva Sylvarum" published in 1627.

Cheney Hydroponics will have an extensive ventilation and filtration system to prevent anything from entering or escaping. The security system, designed with Chris Youngs' expertise from the art world, will have at least 17 cameras outside as well as in the processing area.

Outside the growing area there will be a quarantine room where the product is packaged prior to shipping to retailers. Entry to these areas will only be through remote controlled, double-lock doors, and all personnel in the building will be required to wear badges.

"If you haven't made a prior appointment, you won't even get to the second door," Chris Youngs said.

File photo

Bill and Chris Youngs have had to leap a number of hurdles in order to get Cheney Hydroponics built on this site.

To prevent theft and provide additional control, each plant will be marked and entered into a tracking system. Additionally, six grams of each product shipment will be sent to an authorized testing lab where, after testing, its contents and potency will be included on a label along with the name of the lab, a procedure many other crops don't go through.

It's this exhaustive system of controls and regulations that also appealed to Bill and Chris Youngs to jump into the fledgling recreational marijuana industry. But it's also a desire to make sure Cheney's first venture into the business is an honorable and responsible one, not one generated by outside parties but one that is, homegrown.

"We hope to produce a superior product," Chris Youngs said. "There's something magical about growing something."

John McCallum can be reached at


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