Marijuana

Trove Cannabis opens in Bellingham after struggle with arcade

Co-owners and Western Washington University alumni Stephen Reed and Yin-Ho Lai sit on swings in their new recreational pot store, Trove Cannabis, on Samish Way on Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. The store opens Friday, Nov. 13.
Co-owners and Western Washington University alumni Stephen Reed and Yin-Ho Lai sit on swings in their new recreational pot store, Trove Cannabis, on Samish Way on Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. The store opens Friday, Nov. 13. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

Trove Cannabis will open Friday, Nov. 13, after its owners spent nearly $1 million on the project and fought off a last-minute threat from an arcade opened by a competitor.

What played out in Bellingham could have greater impact with the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board saying it will discuss with the Attorney General’s Office the rule-making issue highlighted by the conflict.

Located at 218 N. Samish Way, Trove will be Bellingham’s newest recreational pot store when it opens at 9 a.m. Friday. The owners are Stephen Reed and Yin-Ho Lai.

Their efforts to enter the state’s recreational marijuana industry were nearly thwarted when the owner of Cascade Herb Co., a pot store located just down the street, opened a video arcade at 1240 E. Maple St., Suite 104.

Cascade is next door to the arcade in the same building, in Suite 103, where the pot store opened its doors in August 2014.

The arcade’s location was within the 1,000-foot buffer the state mandates between pot businesses and places where children might gather, like schools and arcades. Cascade could continue to operate because it already had received its license from the state and was open.

But Trove’s owners, who were nearing the end of construction on their store, didn’t yet have the state license. They questioned the legitimacy of the arcade but were told by the LCB that the agency had to follow the letter of the law.

Legal troubles avoided

Mikhail Carpenter, spokesman for the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, said he couldn’t discuss much about the case.

“It’s something we need to discuss with our AG,” Carpenter said.

The Attorney General’s Office also declined to talk about the issue.

The arcade’s door was locked on the afternoon of Thursday, Nov. 12, and it was dark inside. There was no sign outside the arcade and no open hours posted on the door.

Justin West, Cascade’s owner, was on vacation Thursday and couldn’t be reached for comment.

Trove might still be caught in limbo if not for two things:

▪ New legislation that allows local governments to reduce the buffer down to as little as 100 feet except around schools and playgrounds.

▪ The Bellingham City Council was holding a public hearing for its interim marijuana rules, which allowed Trove to go before members and ask for the smaller buffer. The council did so for this particular case, saying it was only fair because Trove met the 1,000-foot buffer at the time it went through the building process.

“It’s not that we’re reducing it overall for everyone,” said Kurt Nabbefeld, development services manager with the city of Bellingham.

We appreciate the community’s support and the City Council’s support for us to correct a deficiency in the law. We’re grateful.

Stephen Reed, co-owner Trove Cannabis

The LCB issued a license to Trove after the city reduced the buffer.

“We’re excited to be open,” Reed said. “We appreciate the community’s support and the City Council’s support for us to correct a deficiency in the law. We’re grateful.”

Solution unclear for now

The conflict raised a larger issue, with Carpenter saying there’s no guarantee in existing rules that a pot store could stay open if an arcade or daycare, for example, opened within the buffer.

“That’s the question that we’ve all wondered: How is the state going to react to that?” Nabbefeld said.

“Again, we’re going to have to look into the situation,” Carpenter said, “and discuss with our AG on how to proceed.”

When that could happen is unknown, given that the board is in the midst of getting the medical marijuana system in place in the state.

Such conflicts could increase, and more stores could be located near each other, as more people seek to enter the pot market now that the state has removed the quota on the number of pot stores a jurisdiction can have as medical marijuana is rolled into the system.

“That’s part of the bigger issue. Where else are these guys going to go?” said Heather Wolf, a Bellingham attorney who specializes in marijuana business law and land use regulations.

Bellingham has been “reasonable” compared to other jurisdictions, Wolf said, adding even then that zoning and the 1,000-foot buffer naturally limits where such businesses can open.

But, she said, some cities might follow Renton and cap the number of stores they will allow.

She hopes that doesn’t happen here.

“I’m hoping they’ll let the market take care of it,” Wolf said.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

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