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North Bonneville considering opening marijuana retail store

The Columbia River Gorge, a hub for hiking and windsurfing, may become a destination for another kind of recreation.

North Bonneville, a city of about 1,000 residents in Skamania County, is toying with the idea of opening its own marijuana retail store under Initiative 502.

The measure, approved by voters in November 2012, allows Washington residents 21 and older to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana. The state Liquor Control Board is in charge of adopting rules and issuing licenses for growing, processing and selling the drug.

While many local governments, including Vancouver and Clark County, have adopted moratoria on marijuana stores so they can figure out zoning and other restrictions, some North Bonneville officials believe that just delays the inevitable.

“Marijuana is coming into Washington state and our communities whether we like it or not,” said John Spencer, a consultant for North Bonneville. “If we run the store, then we can control its impact on the health and well-being of our community.”

Spencer worked on a short-term contract with the city to study the possibility of a municipally operated pot store. At a Tuesday meeting, the city council did not extend the contract but did not quash the idea of pursuing a store.

“It’s still under discussion. No decisions have been made,” Mayor Don Stevens said. “We’re trying to be proactive and look at our options to stay in the driver’s seat, instead of watching it all unfold.”

The liquor control board capped the number of pot shops statewide at 334, with two stores in Skamania County. Clark County can have as many as 15, as many as six in Vancouver.

The liquor control board expects to adopt rules governing marijuana operations on Oct. 16. The state will take applications for licenses between Nov. 18 and Dec. 17, said Brian Smith, a spokesman for the board.

“There are small windows to apply for the licenses,” Stevens said. Adopting a moratorium, as other local governments have done, would mean missing that window.

“That makes it more likely that operations will end up in the hands of somebody else,” he said. “Maybe it would be a local resident, but who’s to say it’s not going to be some guy from Jersey?”

Many have expressed interest in marijuana operations in Southwest Washington. A Nov. 1 workshop in Vancouver for those who plan to apply for licenses to become marijuana producers, processors or retailers is almost full. The workshop has room for 200, and 183 of those spots had been snapped up as of Monday, Smith said.

The liquor control board’s rules don’t explicitly say that a municipal entity could hold a license for a pot establishment. And if there are more qualified applicants than available licenses, a lottery will decide who receives them.

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