Marijuana

Bellingham tells unlicensed medical marijuana shops to shut down

Owner Hugh Newmark, left, fills an order while patient Mary Burrell hugs employee Suzy Armus on the last day of business for Best Buds medical marijuana dispensary on Meridian Street in Bellingham, Wash., Thursday, June 30, 2016. “It sucks,” Newmark said.
Owner Hugh Newmark, left, fills an order while patient Mary Burrell hugs employee Suzy Armus on the last day of business for Best Buds medical marijuana dispensary on Meridian Street in Bellingham, Wash., Thursday, June 30, 2016. “It sucks,” Newmark said. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

On Thursday, June 30, Hugh Newmark planned to keep his Best Buds medical marijuana dispensary on Meridian Street open until midnight for a fire sale and a goodbye.

He described the days leading up to Friday, July 1 – the deadline for all medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington to close if they don’t get an endorsement from the state – as “bittersweet” and “sad.”

“In my entire life, I’ve never cried so much, I’ve never given so many hugs, I’ve never held so many people,” said Newmark, who has a Best Buds dispensary on 11th Street in Fairhaven that he also closed Thursday.

Seventeen businesses in Whatcom County have received the OK from the state Liquor and Cannabis Board to sell medical marijuana come July 1, most of them recreational pot stores. Best Buds wasn’t among them.

Medical marijuana, which had been largely unregulated, is being folded into the regulated recreational pot industry, which state voters essentially created by approving Initiative 502 in 2012.

Newmark told his patients that everything must go because he’s been told that police could come and seize his marijuana product if anything remained.

“We’re saying goodbye to a compassionate medical cannabis system that’s being replaced with a greedy one,” Newmark said. “The state just wanted to eliminate competition.”

Best Buds was among the 13 businesses to be notified by the city of Bellingham that they must close by July 1, if they don’t get approval from the state to sell medical marijuana.

I believe many, if not all, of the existing stores are or will be trying to come into compliance as soon as possible.

Kurt Nabbefeld, city of Bellingham

Officials with unincorporated Whatcom County and smaller municipalities, such as Blaine, said they don’t believe they have unlicensed dispensaries in their jurisdictions.

The city of Bellingham has sent two rounds of letters within the past six months. It will send out a third letter and visit those places still open after July 1.

Some have closed or have received state approval since the letters were sent, according to Kurt Nabbefeld, the city’s development services manager.

“I believe many, if not all, of the existing stores are or will be trying to come into compliance as soon as possible and we have been trying to help them through the regulatory process the best we can in this new market,” Nabbefeld said.

Local government and law enforcement will be responsible for enforcing the deadline, although the state Liquor and Cannabis Board has said it will provide some support during the transition.

“The Police Department’s role will be to support the shutdown process for any of the facilities that remain in operation after the July 1 deadline,” Bellingham police Lt. Bob Vander Yacht said.

“It appears to us that most of the involved facilities are already taking action steps to comply with the deadline,” Vander Yacht added. “The city, including the police department, will contact any sites that appear to be in violation after the deadline has passed. Each facility that we are aware of has been provided with ample information about the deadline and actions that must be taken.”

It wasn’t known what authorities will do if an unapproved dispensary stays open.

“To say exactly what we would do would be premature,” said Alan Marriner, deputy city attorney for Bellingham. “We don’t know how much of a problem we’re going to have, if any. It would be great if they were all closed.”

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

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