Two Bellingham stores set to be among first to sell recreational pot in Washington

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 6, 2014 

BELLINGHAM — The owners of two marijuana stores in Bellingham said they will be among the first to open in the state Tuesday, July 8, when the next part of recreational pot legalization rolls out in Washington.

Both Top Shelf Cannabis and 2020 Solutions said they have passed their final inspections from the state Liquor Control Board, which is expected to issue the first retail licenses on Monday.

2020 Solutions, 2018 Iron St. in Bellingham, will open at 8 a.m. Tuesday. Top Shelf Cannabis also wants to open its store at 8 a.m. at 3863 Hannegan Road, Unit 107, in Henifin Plaza.

Pot retailers are allowed to be open from 8 a.m. to midnight.

But John Evich, an investor in Top Shelf Cannabis, said exactly when the store will open Tuesday remained in question because of a 24-hour quarantine required by the state for accountability purposes.

Once the state issues a retailer a license, the grower-processor quarantines the pot meant for that store for 24 hours. When that period ends, the items can then be transported to the store to be inventoried and entered into the state’s computerized traceability system.

Evich said he didn’t want customers to have to wait around while the pot was being readied for sale.

Aaron Nelson, senior vice president of operations for 2020 Solutions, said his understanding was that the store would have product available at 8 a.m. for sale, although he acknowledged there was a question about that because of the quarantine period.

KOMO News has reported that the liquor board may issue licenses as early as 1 a.m. Monday to those retailers that are ready to make sure stores can sell to customers come 8 a.m. Tuesday.

Evich said he’d heard that timeline was a possibility but hadn’t had it confirmed by the state. “Nothing’s set in stone, so I’m not betting any money on it,” Evich said, adding, “We are hoping to open as early as possible.”

Meanwhile, the people poised to enter Washington's newest industry since voters approved Initiative 502 - the 2012 ballot measure that legalized recreational marijuana in the state for those 21 years and older - are busy readying their stores for opening day.

Top Shelf Cannabis and 2020 Solutions were among the businesses selected by lottery for a chance at the six coveted retail licenses that the state allocated for Bellingham.

Whatcom County was allowed 15 retail licenses - six in Bellingham, one each in Ferndale and Lynden, and seven others countywide.

"It's incredibly exciting to be a part of this. Everything is so brand new. There's no playbook. There's no track record. We're the ones that get to define success in this industry," said Nelson, who is running 2020 Solutions for owners and Whatcom County residents Aubree and Troy Lozano.

And while the Liquor Control Board has been warning of pot shortages early on, both 2020 and Top Shelf said they have secured their supply of marijuana.

"We don't want to sell out," Evich said of the first day.

NEW PIONEERS

One day last week, Evich gave a tour of Top Shelf Cannabis on Hannegan Road. (The business is not associated with the Top Shelf medical marijuana dispensary that can be seen off Interstate 5 in Bellingham.)

"When you see what we've accomplished in a short time," Evich said before walking into a back room with monitors showing the entirety of the store's interior captured by 16 high-resolution cameras with face-recognition quality.

They're part of the security measures required by the state. The video system is a minimum 4 terabytes that must be able to record and save footage for 45 days continuously.

Nearby, Top Shelf owner Tom Beckley stood in front of empty display cases, while investor Ward Nelson, a former Whatcom County councilman, trained employees.

Beckley pointed to the front of the store where he wanted to put a couch to make customers comfortable, and talked about 20-hour days he's been putting in during the past week to ready the space.

It was Beckley, an electrician, who applied for a retail license on a whim, figuring he might as well be among the first in a new industry.

He asked Evich, a longtime friend and business owner who was a former commercial fisherman, to be part of the venture. Evich then asked Ward Nelson, a pharmacist married to Evich's cousin, to join the business.

All three noted that, as a pharmacist, Nelson also had expertise meeting regulatory requirements for controlling drugs.

The three said they were intrigued by the idea of being on the ground floor of a new industry. They liked the challenge and the pioneering spirit, as well as the chance to make good money.

"It's like the new dot-com industry," Beckley said.

Evich added: "We are making history, just like Colorado. We're making different history."

Colorado voters also decided to legalize recreational marijuana use, and the country's first recreational pot stores opened there to long lines of customers Jan. 1.

"I look at it as an industry that has not existed prior to this other than in an illegal fashion," said Ward Nelson, noting that there were few times in life when someone could be part of a market or industry that hadn't existed before.

Come Tuesday, Evich hopes to be able to open with at least 25 different strains of marijuana in a store that, with its wood floor and partial wood walls, is going for a Northwest feel.

"We are looking to be that clean, comfortable, cozy shop," Evich said.

Top Shelf Cannabis plans to employ four to eight workers.

Aaron Nelson at 2020 Solutions also talked about customer comfort.

"We have put a lot of effort into making a comfortable environment," he said, noting that a building that had been an "eyesore" had been turned into a new store with a brick and stone exterior.

The building is a block from Hardware Sales and the intersection of James and State streets.

"Our main goal is for consumers to have a pleasant experience," said Aaron Nelson, who has 14 years of management experience in a corporate environment.

2020 Solutions will employ 10 workers.

Representatives for both stores stressed responsibility in their approach, with Aaron Nelson saying 2020 Solutions would exceed the state guidelines for verifying that customers are 21 or older.

"My hope is that people give us a chance as well as the other retail outlets and growers," Ward Nelson said.

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com .

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