Washington planning for pot-shop license lotteries


OLYMPIA — Washington will hold lotteries this month for its coveted legal marijuana retail licenses.

The state Liquor Control Board on Wednesday, April 2, adopted a plan for the lotteries, which will be held for any cities or counties where there are more pot-shop applicants than licenses allotted.

Whatcom County is allowed 15 total retail licenses – six in Bellingham, 1 each in Ferndale and Lynden, and seven others countywide. The state received 78 applications for those 15 slots.

The board says the lotteries, to be held April 21-25, will be double-blind to ensure security, and the board itself will play no role in picking winners.

Instead, the board will supply a list of prescreened applicants to Kraght-Snell, a Seattle firm that serves as the accountant for the Washington Lottery. That firm will randomly assign numbers to each applicant and send those numbers, without any identifying information, to Washington State University’s Social and Economic Sciences Research Center.

The center will randomly order the numbers provided by the firm, then send those rankings back to Kraght-Snell, which will decode them. The state treasurer’s office will witness the lotteries, said Liquor Control Board spokesman Brian Smith.

A favorable rank in the lottery won’t guarantee a license. Applicants still will have to pass a background check, financial investigation and other requirements before any licenses are issued. The first retail sales are expected to begin in July.

More than 2,000 people initially applied for the 334 retail marijuana licenses the state planned to issue under the recreational pot law adopted by state voters in 2012.

The board began prescreening the applicants in February and found that about 25 percent failed to respond by sending in proof of age, residency, that their business was formed in Washington, or a disclosure of their criminal history.

Of those who did respond, between 20 to 50 percent failed to turn in a complete application. They’re ineligible for any lottery, too, Smith said.

It isn’t clear how many jurisdictions might be subject to lotteries, because the board is still reviewing prescreening materials provided by applicants.

If Whatcom County’s applicants all passed the prescreening, lotteries would be held for the Ferndale, Bellingham and seven general county licenses. Even when the state awards licenses, some businesses will not be able to operate because of local moratoriums. Lynden and Ferndale have moratoriums in place.

The Bellingham Herald contributed to this story.

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