Two weeks after deadline, applications for marijuana business still growing

State plans to issue growing licenses in late February

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJanuary 8, 2014 

If each business proposing to grow marijuana in Whatcom County gets approved, the farms and gardens could take up about 321/2 football fields.

That won't happen, though. In fact, it won't even come close, because Washington's Liquor Control Board set a statewide cap of 2 million square feet - or 341/2 football fields - on recreational marijuana farms and gardens.

There's no cap, however, on the number of growers. And that could be a real problem, as the Associated Press pointed out Tuesday, Jan. 7. It remains to be seen how many grower applications are approved. But if it's even close to the 2,666 submitted, that could leave growers with less than 1,000 square feet apiece on average - not enough space for most to run an economically viable operation.

Mikhail Carpenter, a liquor board spokesman, said it's "a little bit premature" to worry how the square footage cap will shake out.

First of all, the state plans to disqualify felons and businesses planned near schools, parks and daycare places. Then the board will inspect business plans for each proposal, to see if they should be revised. For example, Carpenter said, if a business signed up for a grow-op from 10,000 to 30,000 square feet, but the plans look like they'd only be able to muster 2,000 square feet of growing space, then they'd be a strong candidate to be reduced to a lower capacity.

If that happens to a lot of larger businesses, it could even things out.

Still, there are more growers that haven't been accounted for yet, which could slice parcels up even further. A logjam of paperwork means many growers who applied before the deadline - two weeks ago - haven't had their applications processed yet.

Since New Year's Eve, in Whatcom County alone, the board processed paperwork for:

- 25 new growers, bringing the total to 121.

- 20 new processors, bringing the total to 103.

- 23 new retailers, bringing the total to 71.

At least one more weekly batch of figures is expected to be released. The liquor board expects some of those businesses to get weeded out.

The liquor board plans to issue growing licenses in late February. After that businesses will need to pass a final inspection before planting their seeds. Retailers are expected to open sometime in early summer.

If you already missed the deadline, you're out of luck for now. There's no wait-list, and any rejected businesses will have to reapply at the next application window.

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Reach Caleb Hutton at 360-715-2276 or caleb.hutton@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Dispatcher Blog at bellinghamherald.com/dispatcher-blog or follow him on Twitter at @bhamcrime.

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