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Porter pot store could be open in next few weeks

A retail pot store in rural Porter could be days away from opening and becoming Grays Harbor County’s first recreational marijuana store.

The store has cleared possibly its most major hurdle and, depending on how quickly the state Liquor Control Board acts in conducting its final inspection of the premises, 3 M’s of Grays Harbor could start selling recreational marijuana out of its refurbished Porter establishment by the end of this month or the start of September.

The county’s Board of Adjustment unanimously approved the conditional-use permit of store owner Josh Miller at a lengthy public hearing in Montesano Monday evening, which one board member called “groundbreaking.”

“I’m definitely relieved,” said Miller after the hearing.

Miller has put tens of thousands of dollars into remodeling and installing security, including many, state-mandated, high-definition cameras, at the old Porter Grocery Store building since winning the state’s lottery for one of the much-coveted retail licenses. Only 334 stores will eventually be allowed to open statewide.

During the first month of legal marijuana sales in the state, the limited number of stores open sold just under $3.8 million worth of weed, which is expected to bring in more than $1 million in taxes, the state reported on Friday.

Although licenses have been issued for about 40 stores, only 18 were selling pot in July, and 16 of them have reported sales so far in August. The closest open store has beenin Olympia.

“It’s off to a healthy start, considering that the system isn’t fully up and running yet,” said Brian Smith, a spokesman for the Washington liquor control board. The state has also only approved 165 legal growers so far, out of about 2,600 applicants.

As more stores open in the weeks to come, they will have more product to sell besides raw marijuana and smoking paraphernalia. Last week, the state released its first list of 18 approved marijuana-infused products from three licensed processors. Among them are marijuana infused sodas — in Rainier cherry, pomegranate and lemon-ginger flavors by Mirth Provisions LLC; tart cherry cannabis-infused shots in various strengths by Db3 Corp., and “Baked Botanicals” by Green Chiefs LLC. The products include marijuana-infused brittle, cookies, nuts, chocolate and trail mix.

Miller said he’s ready to open. He’s already had his first shipment of 5 pounds on order and ready for delivery — but say’s he’s awaiting approval by the Liquor Control Board.

“We need the Liquor Control Board to get back to us and sometimes they don’t communicate very well,” Miller said, acknowledging that the process is moving along slowly, but surely. “I don’t know if we will be able to open this week or next, but that’s the last hurdle.”

Monday evening’s meeting lasted close to two hours with numerous questions from the Board of Adjustment members and from a few concerned Porter residents sitting in the 10-person audience.

“Is there any conflict with federal rules or laws?” asked board member Joe LaBreck.

“That’s not part of our per view right now. This is strictly about the zoning code,” answered county planning official Curt Crites.

When asked about locations of school bus stops and several environmental issues in relation to the store, Crites again noted to the board that it was not an issue to dwell on.

“The Liquor Control Board is in charge of that particular process,” replied Crites. “It’s not part of review of our code.”

Most of the concerns of the Porter residents in the audience centered on traffic, parking and effects on the rural community.

But they did acknowledge that the work Miller has put into remodeling the old structure has been a positive for the community.

“It looks so much better,” said Jennifer Monroe of Porter, who then said she had concerns about the traffic and parking issues it may cause along State Route 12, which has a 55 mph speed limit through the area.

“I worry about unsavory conduct in our neighborhood,” said Porter resident Cathy Beerbower. “We don’t know what’s going to happen, but I guess we’re going to find out.”

But she also acknowledged the improvements Miller has made to the once-rundown-looking property.

“It looks beautiful. It’s brightened up our neighborhood,” she said.

Miller tried to put their minds at ease, noting that customers are absolutely prohibited from even opening the packaging or partaking of the product on the property. He said most customers would likely just be in and out. All comings and goings in the area would be monitored by the high-definition cameras mandated by I-502.

In the end, the board approved the permit, acknowledging and apologizing for the the length of the hearing.

“When you’re plowing new ground, it’s new to the board, so bear with us,” said board member Al Gozart.