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Feb. 25, 2024

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Vancouver mulls allowing more pot shops

Planning commission backs raising total to 9; city staff want to wait

The Columbian
Published:

Vancouver should allow nine recreational marijuana stores in town instead of six, the city’s Planning Commission said this month in response to the state’s removing its limits on the number of pot shops.

Vancouver city staff, however, want to keep the current limit of six stores until late next spring, when the City Council will have more information about how changes to medical marijuana laws and the legalization of recreational pot in Oregon affect local demand. Several new rules related to medical marijuana will become effective July 1.

The city council will consider Dec. 7 whether to increase the number of pot stores it allows. A public hearing will be held prior to the council’s vote.

On Sept. 23, the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board temporarily lifted its limits on the number of retail pot licenses issued statewide, with a plan to set permanent caps in the coming months. The new emergency rules implement changes made to the law earlier this year that aim to align medical and recreational marijuana markets and requirements. The rules also give medical pot users an incentive to use the recreational pot shops.

On Oct. 12, the Liquor and Cannabis Board began taking new applications for recreational retail licenses. The state is giving first priority to medical marijuana collective gardens that had previously applied for state recreational retailer licenses. Second priority goes to medical gardens that hadn’t previously applied. Third priority goes to new retail applicants with no prior medical association.

In the weeks since the rule change, the city of Vancouver has received about 12 inquiries — from existing local retailers exploring the possibility of opening new stores, individuals licensed outside of Vancouver and people hoping to get into the pot business.

After taking testimony at its Nov. 10 public hearing, the Planning Commission recommended a limit of nine stores by a 5-2 vote. The city of Vancouver has six retail stores sited in the west, central and east parts of town. The state had approved a total of 15 retail pot licenses for all of Clark County and its cities, but aside from Vancouver, Battle Ground is the only city that has a pot shop. 

Planning commissioners said they believe in the free market and didn’t want to have a government-regulated monopoly of six stores, according to meeting minutes. They noted the tax benefits of the retail marijuana — Vancouver will receive $790,500 in retail pot excise taxes for the state’s 2016 fiscal year — and said they felt it was important to generate as much money for the city and state as possible. They hadn’t heard of any negative consequences of the city’s retail pot shops and didn’t feel that allowing a few more would hurt the community.

The commissioners said that if the state ended up limiting the number of retail shops to fewer than nine, it potentially could grandfather in the additional stores because there was a state precedent for such action in Seattle.

In an Oct. 29 memo, Bryan Snodgrass, principal planner for Community and Economic Development, outlined his reasons for recommending the city keep its six-store limit. The city’s population hasn’t increased much since the state originally set the six-store limit in 2013, he said. Also, although the stores could see higher demand now that they’ll be patronized by medical marijuana patients, that demand could be more than offset by decreased demand from Oregon now that recreational marijuana is legal there, he said. 

Orchards store sought

Among those who have inquired about opening a pot store in Vancouver are Jon Britt, whose family won a retail lottery license in Cowlitz County in 2014. The family, which owned Angler’s Workshop for 30 years, had hoped to convert their building in Woodland into a retail pot store, Britt testified to the Planning Commission on Nov. 10. However, the Woodland City Council ended up banning retail pot stores in city limits.

Now, he’s hoping to take his lottery license and open a store in a building he leased near Northeast 137th Avenue and Fourth Plain Boulevard in the Orchards area, but that would require the city to increase the number of allowed stores in the city, Britt said. The store would be at least 4 miles from any existing retail pot shop.

“Our shop has the opportunity to be a positive and economically beneficial fit for the community, and the location of our shop would provide a convenient service to the east part of town that is currently underserved,” Britt stated in a letter he sent to the Planning Commission.

In the spring, city staff will give the city council an update of marijuana standards now that the city’s provisions for collective medical marijuana garden are invalid. The council will consider potential new standards for four-person medical collectives as well as any potential changes to buffer standards, the distance pot shops must be sited from schools, parks and other places frequented by minors.

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