Jim Mullen of Vancouver, Wash., paid close attention to last fall’s Yakima City Council election.
As co-owner of The Herbery, a marijuana retailer with two locations in Vancouver, Mullen and his business partner, Richard Zahler, have been looking to expand.
When Mullen, 57, learned more about the council’s new members, Yakima rose to the top of his list.
“We felt there was a good opportunity, better than 50-50, for the City Council to take a positive action,” said Mullen. “We’re gambling on the city lifting the moratorium sometime this year.”
With a new majority elected last fall, the Yakima City Council will consider lifting its ban on marijuana businesses in May
That’s prompting more than just Mullen and Zahler to look into the potential of establishing marijuana retail outlets.
“Over the last month, I probably have had at least two phone calls a week, if not more, from different folks looking to locate facilities in the city of Yakima,” said Jeff Peters, supervising planner for the city.
Mullen and Zahler, however, have done more than make simple inquiries. In December, they purchased a former restaurant building at 3312 W. Nob Hill Blvd. for $420,000. Last week, the state Liquor and Cannabis Control Board granted their company a marijuana retailer’s license to operate in Yakima.
With the ban still in effect, city planners cannot approve marijuana retailers. But the city worked with The Herbery owners and granted approval for a general retail store.
Mullen said he plans to open The Herbery in Yakima in the coming months, but it would not sell any marijuana – just associated items, such as glassware used to smoke marijuana.
Based on past experience, it takes time for people to gain awareness of a new marijuana retailer, Mullen said. Opening a shop now, even one that doesn’t sell marijuana, provides enough time for The Herbery to establish brand recognition locally if the ban is lifted.
Also, being open allows The Herbery to attract and retain strong employees who are familiar with the product and can comply with regulations, Mullen said.
The Yakima City Council voted 6-1 to ban marijuana businesses in January 2014. Only two of the six council members who voted for the ban – Maureen Adkison and Bill Lover – are still on the council.
Kathy Coffey, who was the sole dissenting vote two years ago, made a surprise motion during the Feb. 2 council meeting for a draft ordinance to overturn the ban. Coffey later explained that the loss of both her husbands to cancer prompted her to bring up the issue. She also stated that she purchased marijuana on the black market for her second husband, former KIMA-TV and KYVE-TV general manager Ken Messer, to ease painful side effects of radiation therapy.
At the next meeting, on Feb. 16, the council voted to push the vote to May.
Along with Coffey, Mayor Avina Gutierrez, and Councilwomen Dulce Gutierrez and Holly Cousens have supported overturning the ban while Adkison and Lover, along with new Councilwoman Carmen Mendez, are opposed.
Two available licenses
The Herbery is one of nearly 20 business entities looking to open marijuana retail outlets in Yakima.
To date, the state Liquor and Cannabis Control board has issued three marijuana retailer licenses in Yakima: The Herbery, The M Store at 1503A E. Nob Hill Blvd. and Happy Time at 1301 N. Second St.
Pending applications – including several that have come in the last few months – now vie for just two available licenses for the city of Yakima.
The owner of Happy Time declined to comment when reached by phone. The M Store did not immediately respond to a phone call requesting comment, but owner Jason Gray, of Sammamish, spoke during the Feb. 16 council meeting, stating that legal stores provide safe spaces and safer products for consumers than the black market does.
Peters, the city of Yakima planner, said he emphasizes to those who have inquired about opening marijuana businesses here that the lifting of the citywide ban is not definite, just a possibility. And even if the ban is lifted, there is still work to do to update the planning code to allow marijuana retailers, he said.
Mullen said he knows there is no guarantee that the ban will be lifted and that his efforts may be for naught.
“There are a lot of aspects of this business that are high risk,” he said. “If you want to get into (marijuana retail), you can’t be risk averse.”
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