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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

State taking applications for marijuana licenses starting Monday

Sam Calvert has a dream of getting in on the ground floor of a historic change in retail commerce that begins Monday. But it’s a struggle, he acknowledged.

“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” said Calvert, 50, who has managed commercial real estate and worked as a consultant for business startups.

He knows the three most important factors for a business are “location, location, location,” but as of late this week he was without a lease. He has yet to find a bank that will accept his commercial account. For most businesses he counsels, their startup difficulty is a 2 or a 3 on scale of 1 to 10. His is “at least a 9, maybe a 10.”

The business Calvert wants to start? Green Star, a retail outlet for recreational marijuana sales.

He’s not an activist in the long-running political battle to legalize marijuana, Calvert said. He’s not even a user.

He just sees a business opportunity if he can land one of the eight retail marijuana licenses the Washington Liquor Control Board will award for Spokane out of the 334 it will allow statewide.

For 30 days starting Monday, Washington will open the door to Calvert and other budding entrepreneurs for licenses to do what just a year ago would be unthinkable and illegal: Grow marijuana in fields and greenhouses; process it into various products to smoke, eat or otherwise consume; or sell those products to any adult who walks into a shop off the street.

“This is a historic first,” said Beverly Crichfield of the Department of Revenue, which will start accepting the special marijuana business license applications Monday morning. They’ll be processed and forwarded to the Liquor Control Board for review, and should be issued early next year.

The level of interest is “something we can’t really anticipate,” she said, but workshops around the state have been very well attended.

After nearly a year of studies, hearings, drafts and redrafts, the Liquor Control Board came up with rules that will at least launch a recreational marijuana industry in Washington. It limits the total amount of growing space for marijuana to 2 million square feet statewide. Growers can apply for one of three different sizes in their licenses, but no license will be for more than 30,000 square feet.

Will the requests be more or less than the 2 million square feet? Will the amount of marijuana harvested be too little, too much or just enough to supply the unknown demand in stores around the state? No one knows.

A Lincoln County farmer, who asked not be identified to avoid “unnecessary attention” to his property, said he’ll apply for three growing licenses and one processing license, a combination that is allowed under the rules established by the Liquor Control Board. If all the would-be growers apply for more total area than the rules allow, his requests could be thrown into a lottery, or the allotted area for each grower could be cut back.

The farmer has grown a variety of other crops but never marijuana. But he said he’s talked to the liquor board’s staff, looked at techniques on the Internet, read several books and contacted the vendor for software the state will require all businesses to use to track the drug. He plans to grow primarily outdoors, but he may grow some plants indoors in the winter months. He’s been pricing grow lights and security equipment, also required for any marijuana business.

He contacted his insurance broker to get a bid on upping his crop liability insurance, and to add legal insurance, and found it “surprisingly affordable.” He’s not too worried about having a demand for his product once stores open in the middle of next year.

Will there be enough stores to meet demand, and will they be in the right places? Again, no one knows, although studies of licensed medical marijuana stores in Colorado suggests as many as half will fail in the first year.

Calvert said he originally planned to apply for three retail licenses but scaled back to one. Better to concentrate and have one great store than three average stores, he said.

He estimates he’s looked at some 40 possible locations, and some became untenable as the Liquor Board changed the way distances would have to be measured from a store to the nearest school, park or playground. Landlords were leery, he said, but that’s understandable, considering marijuana will still be illegal under federal law.

“They are concerned about what they don’t know,” Calvert said. As of this week he was zeroing in on two workable locations.

Crichfield said the Revenue Department, which will be the first stop for license applications for would-be marijuana businesses, has seen a noticeable uptick in queries about the licenses in the past week, both over the phone and in person.

There’s also been an increase in the number of people trying to register as a marijuana business without the special form. They’re being told to wait until the form is available after 8 a.m. Monday.