July 7, 2014 in City

3 Spokane pot stores get licenses

One likely to open Tuesday
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Dan Pelle photo

A marijuana plant grown by Frank Schade, The Green Surfer, inside the vegetative room of his grow operation on the Peone Prairie in June 2014.
(Full-size photo)

Map of this story's location

Three stores in north Spokane are among the 25 applicants who will get the state’s first licenses to sell recreational marijuana, but only one will open Tuesday, the first day such sales will be legal.

The state Liquor Control Board this morning released its first list of store licenses it is issuing for communities around Washington. Three are in the Spokane area.

But only Spokane Green Leaf, 9107 N. Country Homes Blvd., expects to open tomorrow, and one of the owners said they have not yet settled on a time. Because of supply problems that include a processor in the Seattle area cancelling over the weekend, it may be a “soft opening” on Tuesday, followed by a grand opening this weekend.

Two other licensees said they will be opening in the near future, but have not set a date.

Sam Calvert of Green Star Cannabis, 1403 N. Division St., said his business plan was always to open later in July or in August and he’s sticking with that plan. He’s looking at a range of dates, and will announce an opening soon.

Justin Wilson of Satori, 9301 N. Division St., said opening on Tuesday “would be amazing” but he thinks a more likely scenario would be to open next week because of supply problems. He’s been working with producers and processors who don’t have marijuana available yet, and is reaching out to other suppliers who may have been working with stores that didn’t receive a license in the first round.

“It’s up in the air right now,” said Wilson, whose recreational marijuana store is opening in a former fitness center next to Piece of Mind, a tobacco, pipe and accessories store he owns.

The name of the marijuana store is a Buddhist term that means sudden enlightenment, which Wilson said he thought was appropriate for the state’s people and its government finally waking up to the potential of the drug.

The stores can open 24 hours after a state-imposed quarantine, but receiving the license is not a guarantee of opening. The stores can only sell marijuana from state-licensed growers and processors, and that is reportedly in short supply. The marijuana must also be entered in a state-approved system that tracks the drug from the time it starts growing at the state-licensed farm until it sold at the store.

Because of the short supply and a series of taxes imposed on the drug by the law that legalized it for adults, the price of recreational marijuana is expected to be $20 per gram or more, about twice what it is at medical marijuana dispensaries which are largely unregulated and operate under a different set of laws.

Recreational marijuana is also more heavily taxed, with an excise tax levied on producers, processors and retailers.

Washington voters legalized recreational marijuana use for adults by passing Initiative 502 in 2012, but it has taken about a year and a half to set up the system to accommodate legal sales.

The initiative put the state Liquor Control Board in charge of regulating the production, processing and sale of recreational marijuana, and it had a series of public hearings before setting up regulations for those businesses.

It set the upper limit of recreational marijuana stores for the state at 334, with the number of licenses divided among the 39 counties and most cities. The stores had to be at least 1,000 feet away from schools, parks and other facilities that cater to children and meet local zoning rules.

Some would-be marijuana business operators quickly ran into problems finding a location, and some communities passed temporary or permanent bans on stores, farms or processors. All businesses struggle with financing and banking because federal banking rules do not allow deposits from illegal drug operations, and federal law still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, making it illegal for all uses.

Recreational marijuana sales may be largely cash transactions when the first stores open.

The state had more than 2,100 applications for those 334 slots, and held lotteries in most communities to select who would be given the first chance to complete the licensing process and open a store.

From among those lottery winners it announced 25 today that are getting the green light to open after passing background checks, inspections for security equipment and a system to track the marijuana and payment of final fees.

A dozen or so more stores will be given the go-ahead in the near future, agency officials said.

The board also set a limit on the total area that can be devoted to marijuana growth in the state as 2 million square feet, with three different sizes for producers, but none can plant more than 21,000 square feet. Although it received more than 2,650 applications to grow marijuana, as of last week it had approved only 62 licenses, most of them in categories less than the 21,000 square foot maximum.

Liquor Control Board staff blame the delay on applicants not being ready for inspections, but some potential growers complain they are ready but can’t get inspected. But a marijuana plant takes about two months to be ready to harvest, so only the growing operations licensed before May are likely to have product available for first day the stores can open.

The agency has not yet approved any edible products such as cookies, brownies or candies, which must be clearly labeled with the dosage of the psycho-active ingredient and marked to show what a single dose is.

Other agency rules say marijuana products must be packaged in child-proof containers and not have labels that target children or teens. Sales are limited to persons 21 or older, and minors are not allowed in stores.

Washington is one of two states that legalized recreational marijuana for adults. Colorado, which also legalized it in 2012, opened some stores at the beginning of this year.

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