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Pot Stores: State Says Cities Can Have As Many As They Want

caption: Cannabis City opened on July 9. At the time it was the only store able to open -- others faced obstacles including distance between them and schools.
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Cannabis City opened on July 9. At the time it was the only store able to open -- others faced obstacles including distance between them and schools.
KUOW Photo/Michael Clinard

The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board is accepting a second wave of applications for new marijuana retail licenses.

Gone are the quotas and lotteries used in the first round of licensing. Now there are no limits on the number of licenses that may be granted – a change that took some cities by surprise.

When Initiative 502, the measure to legalize pot, was implemented, state regulators set limits on how many pot stores a city or county could have. Seattle, for example, received 21 of these so-called “golden tickets.”

But when state legislators opened the licensing process to medical marijuana businesses last spring, they eliminated quotas. Instead they want to bring “gray market” medical marijuana into the state-regulated system.

As the retail stores opened, medical marijuana dispensaries remained in limbo. Seattle and King County sent letters last summer to all medical marijuana businesses, warning them they needed to close. Seattle sent two kinds of letters: one to “good guys” who have a good shot at getting a state license and another to “bad guys” who probably won’t.

King County took a harder line, telling all the dispensaries in unincorporated areas to close.

Related: Seattle Medical Marijuana Retailers Want ‘Good Guy’ Status

The Liquor and Cannabis Board has issued 212 retail licenses so far, but regulators estimate that this new round could more than double the number of licensed stores. They’ve received about 800 applications since the new licensing window opened on Oct. 12.

Preeti Shridhar, a Renton spokeswoman, said the state notified cities about this change weeks before it started accepting new applications. She said Renton officials were happy about state efforts to reconcile medical and recreational marijuana but were caught off-guard by the absence of quotas.

Without state limits, Shridhar said Renton had to decide for itself how many marijuana businesses to host.

“So Renton came up with interim zoning to cap at five,” she said. That’s two more than the city was assigned under the initial quotas in I-502.

Shridar said the cap means some medical marijuana businesses in Renton will have to close. In addition to requiring licenses for medical marijuana businesses, legislators also gave cities that want to host more marijuana stores the ability to reduce the distance between the stores and childcare centers, among other spaces.

Shridhar said Renton is not interested in accommodating more marijuana businesses, but the city has also never sought to ban them as other cities in Washington have.

Meantime, state regulators say they still have the authority to cap the marijuana market. An upcoming report from the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit think tank, will estimate how much marijuana Washington residents are consuming.

Liquor and Cannabis Board spokesman Mikhail Carpenter said those numbers will help guide his agency’s decision on how many licenses to grant.

“While there is presently no cap, we have also been very upfront about the fact that we may shut it off,” Carpenter said.

There is no deadline to seek a marijuana license, Carpenter said. The next wave of licenses could be approved next spring.

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