As first Clark County businesses apply, potential pot industry takes shape

10 have applied for retail license, while 20 seek permit to be grower

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

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So far there are fewer people aiming to open pot stores in Clark County than the maximum number allowed, but that could change before the window closes on Dec. 19.

The state Liquor Control Board last week released a list of 929 applications to produce, process and sell marijuana that it has received since Nov. 18, when the application window opened.

Clark County is approved for 15 retail marijuana licenses, which will be determined by a lottery if the board ends up with more applicants than are allotted. There are no caps on the number of grower or processor licenses.

Through Nov. 26 the board received 158 retail store applications, including 10 from Clark County. It will license up to 334 pot shops total statewide.

The most applications so far — 444 of them statewide — were for growers, with 20 of those in Clark County. And there have been 327 applications to process marijuana, with 14 in Clark County, including some filed by people who also applied for grower's licenses.

There are no other application windows planned after the Dec. 19 deadline, and board officials said they were unsure if there ever will be another one.

But it's a brave new industry, and some people who are thinking about applying are carefully watching as the start of the application process plays out.

Mike Carpenter, a 64-year-old Vancouver resident, said he's still thinking about applying for a sales license, but monetary concerns are giving him pause.

Licenses, when approved, will cost about $1,000. It costs a bit more than $250 to apply for each license, and that fee is not refundable. Plus there are many other costs associated with opening a business.

"Right now I'm just more finding out that I might not be able to do it anyway," Carpenter said. "Beyond the $250, it's $2,500 a month to lease the site I'm looking at, and I won't be able to open until at least May or June, probably later if the city government blocks it. It's a lot of money and a lot of obstacles to jump through — and you can lose your tail."

Carpenter has kept in touch with others looking into sites. While some have applied, others are rethinking the idea and looking for middle-man sorts of opportunities such as creating marijuana cruises, festivals or investment opportunities, he said.

"I think we'll see a lot of associated little businesses that may open up alongside this," Carpenter said. "That may be a better way. I don't want to have my investors lose their shirts because there's too much uncertainty."

Marty, who asked that her last name not be used because she's worried about the stigma of the industry, said she's still planning to apply for a grower's license in Vancouver.

The board has said it will keep the names of the applicants confidential — and just release the site information — until the licenses are approved, but after approval the names become public, which is the law.

"I haven't started my application yet," Marty said last week. "But I just haven't had time. I'm going to start it this weekend."

After hearing the numbers of applicants so far, she said she thinks maybe half of them will survive as the young market opens and works out its kinks. But that hasn't deterred her, she said.

"I'm a little scared on the taxation of the industry," Marty said. "But other than that I think I can do it — it's pretty straightforward."

For more information on the rules or the process, visit the board's website at http://www.liq.wa.gov.