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Spokane allows pot shop to move amid complaints that a sham arcade abused zoning laws

UPDATED: Mon., June 19, 2017

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)

An east Spokane pot shop was handed a victory Monday night by the City Council over what some call a sham arcade that had prevented them from moving.

City Council President Ben Stuckart appeared by phone to cast the deciding vote in a 5-to-1 tally shrinking Spokane’s buffer zone between an arcade and a marijuana business, from 1,000 feet to 500 feet, for six months. City Councilman Mike Fagan, a staunch opponent of the industry, proposed the emergency law as a way to allow Smokane to relocate in the wake of what he called “shenanigans” by the proprietors of the arcade, which charges no admission fee and operates out of an unfinished office space it rents for $5,000 a month.

“This complaint was brought to me, several months ago, after going through another couple of desks in the office,” Fagan said. “Sitting down with the petitioner, Smokane, they had gone through the motions of putting out a tremendous cash down payment.”

Neither the owners of Smokane nor the Old Fashioned Fun Arcade testified before the vote Monday night. Marco Barbanti, the registered agent of the corporation owning the arcade, Rome-Warsaw Holdings, said last week no one in the organization had any ties to the marijuana industry and it did not exist to stop Smokane from moving. The Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board has seen at least one case in Seattle in which a competing marijuana business quickly opened an arcade to drive out competition, a point Fagan made before the vote Monday.

Public testimony focused on the proliferation of businesses downtown and advertising throughout the city. Kelly Cruz, a member of the West Central Community Prevention and Wellness Initiative Coalition, warned the City Council against easing any of its restrictions on the industry.

“Over the last three years, they’ve chipped away at the regulations,” Cruz said in an interview. He warned council members they were “just loading the gun and pointing it at our own heads” and said they should go to the state Legislature if they wanted to change buffer rules.

City Councilwoman Candace Mumm cast the lone vote against the proposal, saying it could create “unintended consequences” and may not solve the underlying problem.

“You could have a sign outside of an arcade be switched to ‘library,’ and still have the same problem,” she said.

City Councilwoman Karen Stratton recused herself from the vote, citing her involvement in the marijuana industry.

Fagan said he’d seek a quick signature from Mayor David Condon on the ordinance, which could then be used by the owners of Smokane to appeal a license denial by the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board. The business needs a license from that agency to sell the drug in its new location.

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