Three pot stores in Bellingham may be among first to open in state

MCCLATCHY-TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICEJune 25, 2014 

Three proposed retail marijuana stores in Bellingham are ready for final inspections, meaning they could be among the first such outlets to open in the state once the first licenses are issued July 7.

Four licensees in Tacoma, three in Spokane and three in Vancouver also are ready for their final inspections, according to information provided to the state Liquor Control Board. In Seattle, only one store is ready for that inspection, along with two others in King County — one in Bellevue and another in Des Moines.

Even small towns like Union Gap and Benge, which is in Adams County, have a store on a list of 20 expected to be among the first licenses issued on July 7.

Those stores would be able to open as early as 8 a.m. the next day. More stores will get final inspections, be issued licenses and be allowed to open later in July.

In April, the Liquor Control Board selected by lottery 42 Whatcom County applicants to possibly receive retail marijuana licenses. That's well above the number of retail stores the state allocated for the region - six in Bellingham, one each in Ferndale and Lynden, and seven others countywide. Applicants must meet several requirements that include passing a criminal background check and a financial investigation, as well as having a 1,000-foot buffer from schools, parks or other areas specified by Initiative 502 as being places where children gather.

Potential licensees in Seattle who won a lottery for the chance to open a store are lagging behind other locales in completing the steps required to open, the Liquor Control Board was told.

Washington almost certainly will have stores spread around more of the state than did Colorado when its first stores opened at the beginning of the year. Colorado's stores were concentrated in Denver, said Chris Marr, a board commissioner.

The higher costs of opening a store in Seattle may be making it harder for potential store owners to find a location and financing to get the required equipment needed to pass inspection, Marr said. The liquor board received 198 applications for the 21 licenses set aside for Seattle, and it's possible some applicants weren't prepared when they were drawn.

For a map of potential retail sites in Whatcom County, go to bellinghamherald.com/marijuana-map.

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