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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Judge: Sticky’s Pot Shop must stop selling marijuana

The Hazel Dell pot shop opened in violation of the county moratorium late last year

By Katie Gillespie, Columbian Education Reporter
Published: August 25, 2016, 7:38pm

Sticky’s Pot Shop in Hazel Dell must stop selling marijuana.

Superior Court Judge Daniel Stahnke ruled Tuesday that John Larson, owner of a recreational marijuana store at 9411 N.E. Highway 99, must immediately stop selling recreational marijuana. Larson opened the shop in unincorporated Clark County in violation of the county’s ban on recreational pot sales late last year.

However, the store remained open for business as of Thursday afternoon. Larson said he intends to appeal the case to the Washington Court of Appeals.

“Until all appeals are exhausted, the store will remain OPEN,” Larson posted on The Columbian’s website.

The ruling affirms the decision by a Clark County hearings examiner, who found Larson was selling marijuana in violation of a county moratorium, and that he gave the county false information about what he planned to sell in order to obtain a building permit. In his application, Larson described Sticky’s as a “general retail business” selling novelties, crafts, collectibles and antiques.

The decision revokes Larson’s building permit. The judge ruled that the store must stop selling marijuana and marijuana-infused products — such as oils or edibles — immediately. Larson must also pay a $1,500 fine, and a civil penalty of $250 per violation per day as long as he continues to sell marijuana.

Code Enforcement Manager Paul Scarpelli could not immediately comment on the county’s next steps Thursday, saying he’d only been recently informed of the decision. Vacations at the code enforcement office, however, will likely slow the county from taking action. He previously said that the county will post a “Do not occupy” sign on the building and arrest anyone who removes or disobeys the sign.

Larson, 68, has been flying in the face of the county’s moratorium for nearly a year, ignoring county officials —from code enforcement officers to the hearings examiner — who have ordered him to stop selling marijuana. Despite the legal challenges surrounding the store, Sticky’s Pot Shop’s revenues have been steadily increasing month over month. Records from the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board show Sticky’s sold $150,051 in products last month and paid $55,519 in state excise taxes.

Throughout the ongoing saga, Larson has argued that the county’s moratorium is illegal, and noted he has received a state license to sell marijuana.

“We are the exact opposite of scofflaws,” Larson posted on The Columbian’s website Thursday. “We followed every law and process to get our license and open our store.”

But overwhelming legal precedent supports Clark County’s moratorium. Larson himself sued Clark County in Cowlitz County Superior Court in 2014, claiming the county’s moratorium on marijuana retailers violated Initiative 502, the voter-approved measure legalizing recreational marijuana production and sales. But the judge ruled in that case that I-502 does not override local governments’ ability to place moratoriums on marijuana retailers. Republican Clark County Councilors Tom Mielke and David Madore voted in 2013 to ban recreational marijuana stores in unincorporated places including Hazel Dell.

Larson is appealing that decision.

Three other state Superior Court judges have offered similar pro-moratorium rulings in four other cases, and Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued a formal opinion asserting that local governments have the right to prohibit sales.

In Clark County, only Vancouver and Battle Ground allow retail marijuana sales.

Ramsey Hamide, owner of Main Street Marijuana in Vancouver, said while he disagrees with the moratorium, he’s also for “respecting the rules of the community you’re a part of.” Larson’s decision to “thumb his nose” at county officials didn’t help his case, Hamide said.

“He didn’t really do anything to convince them otherwise, having blatant disregard for their authority,” he said.

And indeed, County Chair Marc Boldt, no party preference, said there’s no chance that the council will consider repealing the moratorium this year.

As for action in 2017, “It depends on the new board,” he said.

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