Pot Boss: Who will win the lottery to open their own marijuana store?
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Monte Square and the old Porter Grocery store may soon be home to recreational outlets selling marijuana.
But the potential applicants would have to be chosen by the state Liquor Control Board — and there’s plenty of competition for the coveted licenses.
With retail marijuana stores and legal growing and production just months away, East County has numerous applicants to join the fledgling commercial marijuana industry in Washington state.
But fewer than half of Grays Harbor County’s marijuana store applicants will receive permits from the state Liquor Control Board, as 21 applications have been submitted and the state will only grant six licenses.
Three of those retail licenses will automatically go to applicants in Aberdeen, Hoquiam and Ocean Shores as those cities have each been allocated one license per the Liquor Control Board. That leaves East County applicants vying for the three at-large applications for the rest of the county.
Eight applications have been submitted for Aberdeen alone: two on Heron Street, three on Wishkah Street and one each on on State Street, Cushing Street and Olympic Highway. In Hoquiam, three retail applications have been submitted: one on Riverside Avenue, one on Perry Avenue and one on Simpson Avenue. Ocean Shores has three applications: one on Dune Avenue, one on Ocean Shores Boulevard and one on Chance a la Mer. But only one permit will be awarded in each of these three cities. The remaining three permits will be awarded in other Grays Harbor cities and unincorporated areas of the county. Seven applicants between Porter, Montesano, Cosmopolis, Ocean City and Grayland are vying for the permits.
There are four applicants to run retail marijuana stores in the East County — two of those within Montesano city limits. The two others have Elma mailing addresses but both are located outside city limits in rural Porter, along State Route 12. There’s also an applicant in Central Park.
In Grays Harbor County, there are also 30 pending producer applications and 21 processor applications. Statewide, there are 8,580 pending marijuana business applications: 2,113 for marijuana producers, 1,521 for marijuana processors and 1,312 for marijuana retailers. But the state Liquor Control Board will only issue 334 marijuana retail permits in the entire state.
However, the board’s rules don’t set any limits for the number of growing and processing operations in the counties. Those who hold a marijuana producer license can grow marijuana to sell to other marijuana producers or to marijuana processors. A marijuana processor license allows businesses to process, package and label marijuana for wholesale to a marijuana retailer. A marijuana retail license allows businesses to sell usable marijuana, marijuana-infused products and marijuana paraphernalia to people 21 and older.
There are 13 producer applications and seven processor applications in the East County. One East County applicant interested in growing, Pete Muller, wrote to the Liquor Control Board to withdraw his license. He told The Vidette he simply changed his mind.
“I applied because it’s an obvious money maker,” Muller said. “After, talking to my family and friends, with long discussions, on everything considering my health and the requirements of this with the enormous amount of paperwork documentation and the amount of tax to be paid, security; (ETC)., and then talking with the county on all issues, I have made a decision that is not in my best interest to continue with this application.”
The Liquor Control Board started accepting applications Nov. 18 and closed the application window Dec. 19. The board will take a few months to process the applications, concluding in February or March, according to Liquor Control Board spokesman Mikhail Carpenter.
“Our licenses are usually processed in about 60 to 90 days, so that’s what we’re aiming for,” Carpenter said.
One of those attempting to acquire a retail license is Joshua Miller, who would like to open a store in Montesano named The 3-M’s of Grays Harbor.
The address for the application is 100 Brumfield, Suite 100, in Montesano Square, though Miller has yet to obtain a business license from the city, one of the requirements of applicants potentially operating within any city limits.
The other Montesano retail applicant, according to Liquor Control Board records, is Melinda Marie Webber, whose applying for a license at 116. W. Marcy Ave. Webber couldn’t be reached for comment.
But according to City Administrator Kristy Powell, the only business license application she has is from Miller and, according to the stringent Liquor Control Board rules, the Marcy Street location doesn’t meet the requirement of being 1,000 feet from a park due to its proximity just a block from downtown Montesano’s Fleet Park.
Another applicant outside of Montesano also applied for a license under the “Den of Gems” name, but also wrote to the Liquor Control Board withdrawing her application, citing health reasons.
CHALLENGES IN MONTE
Besides trying to get a Montesano business license, the park-proximity rule could also hamper Miller’s application for Montesano Square, which is across the street from a fenced-off grass field near the entrance to town that is often used for practice by local youth sports teams. While it is not designated as a park on any map, Powell said it is part of the city’s parks plan and that could also prove problematic.
Miller said that now seems to be the case after meeting with Montesano officials Tuesday afternoon.
He said the city plans to officially designate the parcel as a park in the near future, foiling his plan for that location. He said he is seeking a new location, hopefully across the freeway and away from the center of town.
Montesano Mayor Ken Estes had issued an edict to city employees back in March of last year, saying that they are not to issue any kind of license or permit for anyone wanting to bring a marijuana dispensary, collective garden or any other kind of marijuana distribution facility into the city limits.
Miller does not agree with the city’s anti-marijuana store stance nor the designation of that grass field as any sort of park.
“They had no interest in making that grassy area a park until this came up. . . . “We’ve had a little trouble with the city accepting our fees for a business license,” said Miller, 30, who is currently unemployed, but says he has a silent financial backer for his proposed store.
“I think they’re kind of discriminating,” he said. “But the mayor is working with us on this and hopefully by this week we can pay for our business license, which doesn’t even guarantee we open a store, it’s just a requirement of the state.”
Miller says his proposed operation is really no different than the city’s lone liquor store, which operates on Main Street.
“I don’t understand the opposition to this,” he said. “We’re not allowed to advertise and there’s no reference to marijuana in the name of our store. You have to be 21 just to walk in the store. Any kids walking by there are not going to know what’s inside unless somebody tells them. I’m just trying to sell it just like the liquor store sells its liquor.”
Miller also cannot fathom the strip of grass across from his proposed business being designated as “park” land.
“I’ve coached Little League in Montesano and that’s just a grassy area,” he said. “Being part of a ‘parks’ plan and being a park in reality are two different things. The city couldn’t make Beacon Park a reality and they want to call this a park. There are no benches, no improvements. It’s simply publicly owned land that people are allowed to use, but that doesn’t technically make it a park.”
Estes says he is working with Miller.
Back in March, Estes said his order preventing marijuana business licenses to be issued was necessary absent any kind of official moratorium from the Montesano City Council. Estes said that the council has been resistant in establishing a moratorium, which would officially restrict any kind of marijuana distribution site from locating within city limits and give the city time to plan for potential locations and zoning restrictions.
“Whatever state law says for medical patients or for the recent approval of Initiative 502, decriminalizing marijuana, marijuana is against federal law,” Estes said at the time. “And we, as a city, cannot and should not issue a permit or license to someone breaking the law.”
Initiative 502, legalizing marijuana, was approved by voters within the city limits of Montesano by a vote of 979 to 955. It was also approved in the countywide vote tally.
Estes backed off last spring’s comments a bit earlier this week, but still made it clear that this is murky new ground for the city government and that Miller may be caught in something of a Catch-22. He needs a business permit to get a retail license from the state, but the city doesn’t want to grant a business license until he’s got one of the rare state retail licenses.
“He needs to get the state license before he gets his city business permit,” Estes said Monday, noting he had just met with Miller’s attorney and that the city council planned to discuss the issue and hear from Miller at its meeting on Jan. 14.
“Philosophically, I’m a (former) police officer,” said Estes. “I don’t like any drugs at all, but it’s state law. My personal views have nothing to do with this. It’s my position as administrator of this city to make sure we follow all the laws — state and federal.”
PORTER GROCERY ... AND POT?
Well-known Elma attorney Chris Crew, applying under the working name “Always Herbal,” specifically targeted his store outside the auspices of the municipal governments, which all seem to be struggling with how to implement retail marijuana operations within their boundaries. Crew, ironically, is also representing Miller in his disagreement with the city of Montesano.
But Crew points out his chances are no better than any other applicants because the initial selection process is set up on a lottery for each county. After being selected in the lottery, the applicant then must fulfill all state requirements to be issued an actual license or it goes back into another lottery among remaining non-selected applicants.
“That’s why I don’t feel like I have a better chance than anyone else,” Crew said. “But, ideally, you want to be part of that first draw, though, because there’s going to be a whole lot of money made in the first few weeks,” noting that the state of Colorado, first-day legalized sale of marijuana brought in more than $1 million.
Crew, 36, says he wants to set up his proposed marijuana shop in the building that used to house the old Porter grocery store and restaurant near the Porter Saloon on rural Highway 12. He doesn’t own the building, but will sign a lease if the state approves his application.
Crew said he was a late arrival to the application process, but was spurred to apply due to all the legal advice he’s being asked for by potential East County growers and processors.
“I had a bunch of people come to me who wanted to apply for production and processing licenses and I thought that this is going to be really lucrative,” Crew said. “It’s really a financial thing. I figure my odds are 50-50 to have a retail monopoly over a big area. There are only six retailers in the county and potentially hundreds of producers and processors in the state.”
The lawyer doesn’t have any experience selling marijuana, but he has been involved in creating a county ordinance regulating the substance. He served on the Grays Harbor County Cannabis Land Use Task Force along with county commissioners, health advocates, marijuana advocates and county planners.
“I felt like I learned a lot about marijuana from that,” Crew said.
Crew said all the retail marijuana stores will be required to follow stringent state guidelines, including setting up a series of high-tech, high-resolution cameras that the Liquor Control Board will use to make sure all rules are being followed by any particular store.
“They’ll be able to see every transaction; it’s really high-def,” said Crew. “They expect you to buy high-end equipment and you have to hold and secure (the camera footage) for 48 days on site.”
Crew also said that stores will be allowed to sell up to one ounce per resident and up to a quarter-ounce to out-of-state residences. How many stores customers visit and purchase from on a particular day will not be tracked, he added.
Another applicant known as Whodat Cannabis LLC has proposed an outlet at 4741 Highway 12 outside of Elma. The building is owned by M&M Harbor Properties. The property company is owned by developer Mark Doyle, who didn’t return a call seeking comment on Tuesday.
And there’s also an outlet proposed in Central Park called the Grays Harbor County Pot Shop, at 2910 Olympic Highway, on Highyway 12. The bulding is located in a former gas station and the building is owned by Olympic Highway Aberdeen, LLC out of Seattle.
More information on those two applicants were not yet available as of Jan. 7. The Vidette made attempts to contact some of those who have applied for production and processing licenses in the East County, but they were either “unavailable” for comment or did not return phone calls.
Daily World reporter Amelia Dickson contributed to this story.