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Spokane judge dismisses arcade’s claims in marijuana shop lawsuit

Old Fashioned Fun Arcade’s original location at 3917 E. Main Ave.in June 2017. A Spokane County judge this month dismissed a claim by the owners of the arcade seeking to prevent the move of a marijuana store within 1,000 feet of the business’s two locations along East Sprague Avenue. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Old Fashioned Fun Arcade’s original location at 3917 E. Main Ave.in June 2017. A Spokane County judge this month dismissed a claim by the owners of the arcade seeking to prevent the move of a marijuana store within 1,000 feet of the business’s two locations along East Sprague Avenue. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

A Spokane County judge this month nixed an attempt by the owners of a dubious arcade to shut down a marijuana store down the street.

Superior Court Judge Julie McKay denied a request from the owners of Old Fashioned Fun Arcade, an amusement center that has opened two locations in a largely industrial area of the East Sprague corridor, to nullify a license for retail outlet Smokane to sell pot within 1,000 feet of the arcade’s front door. The dispute followed a legal change by the Spokane City Council allowing Smokane to move, with lawmakers suggesting the arcade venture was a sham designed to prevent the pot shop from opening.

Arcades are among a category of properties, including day care centers, schools and libraries, that require a buffer between them and state-licensed marijuana stores under city law. The intent is to keep children away from a business that can only sell to those 21 and older.

Marco Barbanti, the attorney representing the arcade, said he’s pondering his legal options. McKay’s order allows Smokane to continue selling in its new location.

“If we’re going to take any action, it’s going to be appealing this ruling,” Barbanti said.

The ruling from McKay concludes that Barbanti and the arcade did not pursue an appeal of the licensing decision to the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board, the state agency responsible for administering marijuana laws. That agency must rule before the courts can, McKay found.

Meanwhile, Smokane plans to push its counterclaim against Barbanti and the arcade, arguing unfair business practices, said Dan Bariault, an attorney for the marijuana store. Barbanti has repeatedly cited attorney/client privilege when asked about the interests behind the arcade, a question prompted by evidence of other businesses across the state opening up qualified “buffer zone” entities, including an arcade in Seattle, to elbow out competition.

“There’s always been something more to this story than meets the eye,” Bariault said.

The two locations do not charge patrons to play the machines, and the marijuana store contends there’s minimal business activity. Barbanti has defended the arcade as a bona fide business and filed legal briefs containing images of children visiting the original location for parties.

Barbanti said he believed McKay’s order also dismisses the counterclaim, which he said had “no basis.” Smokane received permits from the city to move its operation from a location on Ralph Street to the new spot on Sprague, but hadn’t received final licensing from the Liquor and Cannabis Board when the arcade opened its doors. City lawmakers shrunk the buffer temporarily to 500 feet to allow the shop to move, at the insistence of City Councilman Mike Fagan. The second location opened after the council’s action.

Barbanti also represents Todd and Elizabeth Byczek, the owners of two marijuana retailers that now operate under the name Lovely Buds. One of those locations is also on East Sprague Avenue, the other is located on East Francis Avenue. The East Francis location, previously known as Starbuds, was hit with a trademark infringement lawsuit from a marijuana business with the same name in western Washington.

That lawsuit has been dismissed, according to court records. Barbanti said he signed the paperwork on behalf of the Byczeks, but had no further information on the negotiations leading to the dismissed lawsuit.