The first 25 legal pot stores have received state licenses to start selling their historic wares, but just one store will open Tuesday in the state’s largest city and county to serve a long line that started forming the day before.
How did that happen since at least four others are opening statewide?
State regulators point to store owners and say most weren’t prepared to open just yet. “Some were still trying to work out financing, some were waiting for permitting,” said Mikhail Carpenter, spokesman for the state Liquor Control Board.
Green Theory, the first store licensed in Bellevue, is an example of a retailer still needing local permits. Bellevue officials say the company lacks building and occupancy permits and a city business license. Green Theory’s owner did not return a call seeking comment.
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For others, it’s strictly a business decision, Carpenter said. “I’ve talked to licensees who intended to open the first day they could, and others who wanted to wait until they established better supply lines,” he said.
Most of the first licensees willing to talk agreed that delays were their fault, not the state’s.
Mike Perkins won two lottery spots giving him the opportunity to open stores in Seattle. “It just took a little more time than we had,” Perkins said, to get the stores ready for final inspection by state investigators. He hopes to pass his inspection later this week and get a license.
Sam Burke, another Seattle lottery winner, said he hit a snag with the landlord at his proposed location. He found another but it was too close to a community center, and settled on a third location he believes will work.
The owner of the Mello Times store in Seattle, another lottery winner, didn’t want to rush his opening.
“It’s natural for people to blame others; we live in a blame culture,” said John Branch. “But I’ve got no complaints about the city and the state. They’re wonderful. I’m being cautious and careful and I’m not going to make a big mistake.”
Perkins said some store owners are waiting to open for other reasons.
“A lot of people won’t open tomorrow because there is no product for them or they don’t want to pay what” growers are asking for the scarce supply, Perkins said.
Three licensed shops — High Time Station in Ephrata, Margie’s Pot Shop in Bingen, and Austin Lott in Winthrop — said Monday they hadn’t yet found supply.
Another type of lottery winner, Perkins said, probably never intended to open a store and are just “banking their license” waiting for the right offer from a buyer.
The state authorized up to 334 stores in all.
Still other winners were disqualified by the state, often because their location appears to be within 1,000 feet of prohibited venues such as parks, community centers and day-care centers.
Mehran Rafizadeh, owner of Trichome & Calyx, who drew Seattle’s top lottery number, said he is seeking clarification from regulators about the legality of his location. The state disqualified his application because a day-care center moved nearby after Rafizadeh applied for a license, said Mike Armstrong, a lobbyist working for the business. Rafizadeh is appealing.
Armstrong, a former state representative, said entrepreneurs shouldn’t shoulder all the blame. State regulators appear to be overwhelmed by the 7,000 license applications, he said.
“I believe they’re short-staffed and doing the best they can,” he said.
Perkins said the state needs to get more growers licensed. Then the state “needs to take the tax revenue and hire additional staff to turn this thing on,” he said.
Some stores, though, will be eagerly throwing open their doors Tuesday.
Top Shelf Cannabis in Bellingham plans to open iat 8 a.m., the earliest time legally allowed.
Top Shelf owner Tom Beckley planned to have more than 20 pounds on hand for opening day, which he would either pick up or receive from a processor early Tuesday morning.
The first 50 to 100 people in line will get to buy for a discounted price of $10 per gram, and the price will go up after that, said Beckley.
Aaron Nelson, general manager for 2020 Solutions in Bellingham had planned to opem at 8 a.m. Tuesday, but canceled that plan late Monday because of supply problems.
Cannabis City, the only store in Seattle and King County that will open Tuesday, plans to make its first sale at noon. Several people already had lined up on the sidewalk outside Monday afternoon.
First was Deborah Greene, 65, a grandmother who plans to buy two baggies of pot. One is for her use, the other to be signed by Cannabis City’s owner, James Lathrop.
“And that will be saved forever,” she said of the signed baggy. “You don’t use history.”
Greene, who retired from the insurance industry, decided on a whim to wait in line to witness history. She helped make history, too, by signing petitions and voting for state Initiative 502.
“It was the first thing I wanted to do when I retired,” Greene said. “I wanted to smoke a joint and not worry about drug testing.”
The state will continue to issue licenses for retailers and growers as they become ready for inspections, said Carpenter.
The state’s former pot consultant said he wouldn’t read too much into the first weeks or months of Washington’s recreational system.
“The stores will open, prices will be way high, there will be lots of news stories and we won’t learn much,” said Mark Kleiman, a UCLA professor and co-author of “Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know.”
If you want to know what Washington’s recreational pot market is really going to look like, Kleiman said, “you have to wait until after the harvests” when supply increases, more stores open and prices stabilize.
Times staff reporters Andy Mannix, Erin Heffernan, Colleen Wright and Evan Bush contributed.
Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or email@example.com