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Monte man gets his pot shot

David Haerle | The Vidette Future marijuana entrepeneurs Betty McCombs and Josh Miller stand among display cases for use in their prospective retail marijuana shop to be located somewhere in the East County.Buy Photo
David Haerle | The Vidette Future marijuana entrepeneurs Betty McCombs and Josh Miller stand among display cases for use in their prospective retail marijuana shop to be located somewhere in the East County.

Wanted: One building zoned commercial in the unincorporated area of the East County, between Central Park and Malone. Must be a minimum 1,000 feet away from a park or school. Rent will be paid in cash.

Minus a minor hitch, Josh Miller hit it big in the lottery last week. Oh, it’s not the kind of lottery that throws millions of greenbacks at the winner instantly, but if Miller can maneuver over a bunch of bureaucratic hurdles in the next few months, he should be seeing plenty of green — and money — in his future.

Miller, 30, was the only East County resident whose number came up in last week’s Liquor Control Board lottery to choose those who will get the first crack at opening a highly lucrative retail marijuana store in the state.

Miller, a 2001 graduate of Elma High, want to open his store in the East County, but he’s having trouble finding a building that will work

Grays Harbor County will be allowed six recreational marijuana stores — one in Aberdeen, one in Hoquiam, one in Ocean Shores and three in the remaining areas of the county — according to rules outlined by the Liquor Control Board. But the board received more applications than there are available stores, so applicants’ priorities were determined through a lottery.

Miller was one of three applicants to win the lottery in the “at-large” category. The other two picked in the top three plan to open their store in the North Beach. Miller’s will be the only retail outlet between Aberdeen and Thurston County, a rather lucrative geographic monopoly, if he can pull it off.

The top-priority applicants haven’t yet received licenses, but their applications will be considered first. If their applications are found lacking, the permits will be denied and the board will consider second-priority applicants.

“It’s going to be a lot of stress,” said Miller, 30, the day after the LCB informed him of his good fortune via email. “I was almost going to be relieved if I didn’t get it. “It’s going to be a lot of work, but it’s going to be a lot better job than I’m used to.”

The East County’s only other applicant for a retail license did not fare as well in the lottery. Attorney Chris Crew, who is converting his Elma-based law firm to specialize strictly in marijuana law, had applied to open a retail outlet at the old Porter Grocery Store on State Route 12, but he finished seventh out of seven in the lottery.

“I’m trying not to be bummed,” Crew said of his lottery ranking on Friday. “It’s one thing if you’re next in line or two down, but it would take four people getting denied for my number to come up. For me, now, I’ll probably try to get involved in the producer process.”

It was Miller who originally wanted to open his store in Monte Square but was rebuffed by city rules and officials, then targeted a parcel near Elma in unincorporated Grays Harbor County, hoping bypass some of the challenges associated with applying for pot businesses in local cities. The city of Hoquiam, for example, still hasn’t approved permanent regulations for marijuana businesses and several members of the city council support an outright ban.

Miller, who has the financial backing of partner Betty McCombs, found a site at 98 Schouweiler Road. However, Grays Harbor Planner Curt Crites says the site won’t fulfill the county’s requirements. Pot stores in the unincorporated portions of the county must be cited in a “commercial” zone. The Schouweiler Road parcel is zoned “industrial.”

It’s not a huge deal because it only costs a $75 fee to the LCB for an applicant to change the address/ location of a prospective store, according to Miller, but he’d like to find a suitable soon so he can started opening his business. While the state has placed no limits, the the eventual number of producers/growers it could eventually approve, it has limited the number of stores statewide to 334, meaning Miller, a father of four currently making end meet doing odd jobs, is holding a Wonka-esque golden ticket if he can find the right location.

Miller says he intends to open the shop somewhere in East County, where it will be legally acceptable.

His partner, Betty McCombs, who has never smoked pot and doesn’t want to because she holds a commercial driver’s license, has a building that fits the mold, but is too close to Satsop School.

McCombs, 59, who runs a trucking company with her husband, Steve, is in it for the money and isn’t too worried about what other people think about her helping set up a marijuana shop.

“I honestly don’t care,” she said. “At this point in my life, I don’t give a sh—!”

The McCombs have been operating out of their Satsop location for almost three decades and Betty believes she has found a wise investment with which to build a nest egg.

“We don’t have any retirement savings,” she said. “What we have is our land, our business and our cattle. If I can find another way to make money, I’m all for it.”

Miller, on the other hand, is in it not only to make money but because he’s a true believer in the legal-marijuana crusade.

“We’re the community of activists trying to get this thing moved ahead,” he said of the growers, processors and retailers trying to work through the maze-like legalization process.

“To me it’s a dream come true,” Miller said.

The McCombs and Millers have named their prospective business venture “Three M’s of Grays Harbor.”

Miller is aware he has many hoops to jump through, but is feeling much more optimistic now that he has first shot at one of the highly coveted retail licenses.

“You don’t get the license until you’re up to compliance,” he said. “I’m willing to locate all the way from Porter to Central Park, if someone has a spot.”

Based on how retail stores are doing in Colorado — the only other state to legalize, so far — he won’t have any problem paying the rent.

Meantime, the other two potential stores in unincorporated Grays Harbor to open is Pakalolo at Ocean City and Washington Coast Marketing just north of Hoquiam.

Crites, the county planner, said on Friday that he’s not heard from any of the the applicants. At first blush, he says Pakalolo’s address appears to be in a residential area and wouldn’t be allowed, but the Hoquiam store seems perfect for a store since it’s in a commercial area.

Ocean City resident Wendy Fort of Pakalolo told The Daily World that an existing building on their property is already zoned for commercial use. Pakalolo is the Hawaiian word for pot.

If any of the three approved for the at large licenses can’t secure a spot for whatever reason, there’s four other applicants in the wings.

One store each was also approved for the cities of Hoquiam, Aberdeen and Ocean Shores. Hoquiam and Ocean Shores are still sorting through their marijuana regulations.

LOTTERY RANKINGS

Grays Harbor County at large (Three licenses given):

1) Pakalolo - 2742 State Route 109, Ocean City

2) The 3-M’s of Grays Harbor - 98 Schouweiler Rd., Elma

3) Washington Coast Marketing - 2294 State Route 109, Hoquiam

4) Melinda Marie Weber - 2613 SR 109, Ocean City

5) Tyroda - 2294 State Route 109, Ocean Shores

5) Pugsley’s - 1628 State Route 105, Grayland

6) Always Herbal - 5673 State Route 12, Elma

Aberdeen (one license given):

1) Cannabis 21 - 809 W Cushing St., Aberdeen

2) Pugsley’s - 2003 Westport Highway, Aberdeen

Hoquiam (one license given):

1) Zia Recreational - 2815 Simpson Ave., Hoquiam

2) Happy Cheema -1733 Riverside Ave., Hoquiam

Ocean Shores (one license given):

1) Green Outfitters - 662 Ocean Shores Blvd., Ocean Shores

2) Ocean Shores Hemp - 682 Ocean Shores Blvd., Ocean Shores

3) Coastal Reef - 682 Ocean Shores Blvd., Ocean Shores