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Washington took another step closer to launching its one-of-a-kind marijuana industry on Friday, issuing a list of the top candidates who will wade into the sector’s untested waters.
But even as the state made public the ranking of pot retail applicants based on lotteries, no one, including the landlords of the proposed retail shops, their investors or the entrepreneurs themselves, could predict with certainty the outcome of state-regulated recreational marijuana sales.
“There’s a lot of confusion out there,” said Brandon Brock, chief executive officer of Mary Jane’s House of Marijuana, who said he felt a huge sense of relief when he learned his sales application for a store in Washougal was ranked No. 1 in the lottery for that city.
At this point it looks like Clark County’s only marijuana shops will be within the city limits of Vancouver and Battle Ground, unless the other cities and the county reverse moratoriums on the outlets.
If he’s awarded the license after the state review process, Brock said he hopes to work with Washougal to end that city’s ban on retail locations.
“I’m from Washougal, I have several businesses here, I’m eager to work with the city,” he said.
The state, local governments, and the would-be business owners now must work through a thicket of regulatory and licensing issues. Under the state’s time line, marijuana retail licenses will be issued beginning July 1. Those who came out on top in the state lotteries won’t necessarily be approved as retailers; if they don’t meet all legal requirements, others who were lower in the ranking will move up.
Some who were top-ranked in the Washington State Liquor Control Board’s lottery of 1,174 applicants — including 86 in Clark County — said they still have a long way to go before they’ll be legally selling an ounce or less of marijuana to customers who are 21 and over. But a few liked their standing on the list. The rank-ordered list was produced by 75 lotteries to sell marijuana, in keeping with state rules that a lottery was to be used if a jurisdiction received more applications than the state-allowed allocation of 334 licensed retailers.
“I’m actually into the next phase for the license, but I still have to fill out a lot of forms,” said Robert Daines of Clark County Cannabis. His application was ranked No. 6 in unincorporated Clark County, allocated for six licenses by the state, but banned by moratorium for now.
In all, Clark County could be home to 15 marijuana retailers, including six in Vancouver, six in unincorporated Clark County, and one apiece in Battle Ground, Camas and Washougal. But the county’s top 15 applicants will have to pass background checks, financial investigations and other requirements before any licenses are issued.
The first retail sales are expected to begin in July, said Mikhail Carpenter, a spokesman for the Liquor Control Board.
Among the top-ranked applicants, five candidates and a total of six proposed stores rose to the top in Vancouver, allotted for six retail licenses as one of two Clark County jurisdictions without a moratorium .
Pot selling has been banned by the local governments of unincorporated Clark County, and in Washougal and Camas. La Center and Ridgefield can’t have pot businesses within city limits.
In the Vancouver lottery, Mary Jane & Friends (not affiliated with Mary Jane’s House of Marijuana) was ranked No. 1, and a business called RWZ were ranked No. 2 and No. 3, which would allow that business to operate two stores if the applicant passes its background check, financial investigation and other requirements, Carpenter said. Those applicants, and many others who rose to the top of the lottery in Clark County, could not be reached by The Columbian on Friday.
Under the state law, one owner can own up to 33 percent of the licenses in a given area. So RWZ, which got two of the top six spots in the Vancouver lottery, is at that maximum of two stores out of six total for the city, said Carpenter, the state spokesman.
He also explained there are no state restrictions on stores being next door to or near each other. However, information issued by the city of Vancouver stipulates the stores must be a minimum of 300 feet apart, a possible conflict for the RWZ location at 11205 N.E. 28th St. Building A-3, near Mary Jane & Friends at 11215 N.E. 28th St. Suite 5.
The top-ranked businesses will still have to go through a thorough background and financial investigation.
“If somebody doesn’t complete the licensing process, then we move to the next on the list,” Carpenter said.
The other three stores that ranked among the top six for Vancouver are High End Market Place on 15640 Fourth Plain Blvd. Suite 200; Mikes Eastside Drugs, 6101 N.E. 127th Ave.; and New Vansterdam, 2803 Fort Vancouver Way. The second RWZ location is 111 S.E. 103rd Ave.
Carpenter said the first complete licenses will be issued “no later than the first week of July.” He expects licenses to be approved in small batches of 10 or 20, with cities that don’t have moratoriums or bans, including Vancouver, going first.
“Places with moratoriums or bans will move to the bottom of the list,” he said.
With no moratorium in place, Battle Ground’s top two applicants for pot shops were competing in the lottery for the same location owned by a landlord who now says he’s decided not to lease to either one of them.
Vancouver residents Loren Carlson and Dale Rennaker each applied for a retail license at 2404 W. Main St. Suite 110 in the Battle Ground Market Center. Carlson, who listed the name of her store as C4U, took the top spot, and the Liquor Control Board ranked Rennaker’s Greenjuana second.
Josh Oliva, the shopping center’s leasing manager, said he made up his mind several weeks ago. With concerns from nearby tenants and Battle Ground voters in mind, Oliva decided he wasn’t interested.
“I’ve moved on,” he said. “Early on in the process, I think there were still a lot of unanswered questions. It’s a brand new industry, and I think after kind of looking at it, it’s still against federal law.”
Battle Ground remains the only small Clark County city without a moratorium on growing, processing and selling recreational marijuana.
The state allotted one retail license to the city and six for at-large locations throughout Clark County, potentially opening the door for more to set up pot shops in Battle Ground in the coming months.
Two applied for Battle Ground locations under the at-large category: Herb and Accessories at 6106 N.E. 239th St. and Mary Jane’s House of Weed at 7702 N.E. 219th St. Suite 104. Neither cracked the top six in the state’s lottery ranking, but they could still end up with a license.
Businesses applying to sell marijuana under the state’s new rules had to pay $200 to apply. If approved, the retailers will have to pay $1,000 annually for the license, in addition to leasing the space and buy the state-required security cameras and tracking software in an industry not yet fully embraced by mainstream commercial lenders.
It’s a chance some said they were more than willing to take, despite the financial risk and uncertainty.
“I’m invested heavily financially into this process,” said Brock, who founded Mary Jane’s House of Glass with his mother and has several pipe and marijuana accessory stores in the region, including one in Washougal.
He said he plans to pay for the retail site himself, adding that his 14-year head-shop business is debt-free.
“I have nine locations, and I’ll be financing this out of my own pocket,” Brock said. His brother, who also works for the family business, came in seventh in the Vancouver lottery — one short of moving forward.
If any of the top six drop out, that store at 8312 E. Mill Plain Blvd., would move up.
The store chosen for the top slot in the Vancouver lottery, Mary Jane & Friends, at 11215 N.E. 28th Street, Suite 5, is not owned by Mary Jane’s House of Glass or any of those family members, Brock said.
Some of the Vancouver licenses in the top six spots also may not be at legitimate addresses, according to a landlord who owns the building where two applicants, Mary Jane & Friends and RWZ, were listed at 11205 N.E. 28th St. Building A-3.
Craig Angelo, the owner of Four Seasons Place, which includes both addresses, according to Clark County property records, said he was not aware of any retail store applicants looking to rent at that site.
“To our knowledge no one has contacted us about a license at Four Seasons,” Angelo said in an email. “We’ve had inquiries at other locations but our company has not determined policy yet.”
The Columbian was unable to contact the owner of Mary Jane & Friends for this story.
Brock’s store and his brother’s are both secure and confirmed for their locations, he said.
“We don’t own (the Washougal site), but I have a friend in retail and will be renting from him,” Brock said. “It’s secure. To get this far, everyone was supposed to have a location with a letter signed by the landlord. But if that got confused, I wouldn’t be surprised.”
Problems with moratoriums and the expense of securing a location without knowing whether a license will be issued have led some applicants to list home addresses or other potentially iffy sites, Brock said.
He added that he understands that some neighbors may be uncomfortable with marijuana sales in the city. He hopes to reach out to them.
“I’m sure if I went door to door there would be some (people who are) less supportive than others,” Brock said. “But it’s been voted in, and I think people are supporting it more and more.”
One of the biggest issues moving forward will be finding enough supply once the stores open. To date, Clark County only has one approved producer, CannaMan Farms in Vancouver.
“Last I heard there were only 18 producers approved in the whole state,” Brock said. “Clearly that represents a problem. Until enough are licensed we won’t be able to keep up with demand.”
His store plans to focus on high quality marijuana products, and he’d also like to offer a wide array of items, he said.
“How we compete with the black market is another thing,” Brock said. “If the police don’t crack down on the black market it could be a real problem.”
Even if pot is cheaper on the black market, though, retail stores will offer safer products where buyers can see the THC content and will know that the product is free of mold, bugs and contaminants.
Where they stand
Here’s where the Clark County jurisdictions stand on the establishment of marijuana:
n Vancouver: Will follow the voter-approved state law and has adopted regulations for state-licensed marijuana businesses. The state mandates that all pot-related businesses be at least 1,000 feet away from schools, playgrounds, child care centers, parks, transit centers, libraries, arcades and recreation centers. For now, pot shops will be allowed in general commercial zones if they meet the setback requirement.
n Camas: A six-month moratorium went into effect on April 7 and the city plans to adopt a final ordinance on recreational marijuana in October.
n La Center: Adopted a six-month moratorium on April 9.
n Ridgefield: A moratorium was set to expire this month, but the council voted on April 24 to establish a new six-month ban. The mayor and city councilors intend to end the ban early, once they’ve finally figured out their new regulations.
n Washougal: Has adopted two bans — one on collective gardens and another on recreational marijuana. The former expires on Sept. 4, and the latter on June 2. The city will review options on May 12, and the council might take a vote on extending the moratorium on recreational marijuana on May 27.
n Woodland: Plans to take up its moratorium again after a public hearing on May 19. The mayor and council have already decided to extend the ban. The current moratorium expires on June 2.
n Unincorporated Clark County: Commissioners on Feb. 11 extended a temporary moratorium on marijuana-related businesses until later this spring, a move intended to give the county more time to draft a long-term zoning ordinance regulating the growing, processing and selling of pot. The effective ban will be in place until June 11 at the latest.
The county ban only adds to the uncertainty for Daines, owner of Clark County Cannabis. His store location at 6307 N.E. St. Johns Road is right on the border of the city limits in unincorporated Clark County, he said, calling for county leaders to lift the ban and the long-standing stigma attached to marijuana for recreational purposes and for medical use, which he expects will be the goal of his store’s customers
“They need to educate themselves and be more aware of what cannabis can do. They need to open their minds and see how it helps people,” Daines said.