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State’s Liquor and Cannabis Board to boost number of pot stores

OLYMPIA — Marijuana stores could multiply in Everett, Arlington, Edmonds and other cities in Snohomish County under a plan to allow more retailers statewide.

Washington's Liquor and Cannabis Board has decided it might need 222 additional stores to accommodate an expected surge in demand from medical cannabis users starting next year.

The board in January intends to boost the number of retail stores it will allow to 556, up from the current maximum of 334.

Snohomish County will see its allotment jump to 70, from 35, as allocations are doubled for cities and the unincorporated areas of the county. Snohomish County is one of 10 counties in which the allocations will be doubled.

This means Everett, where five retail stores now operate, could be home to 10 pot-selling businesses. Arlington would be eligible for a second store and Edmonds could wind up with four.

However, zoning rules and political opposition could keep the marketplace pretty much unchanged. Today, 20 marijuana stores are licensed in the county and 19 are reporting sales, according to state records.

Pot stores are banned in several cities including Snohomish, Marysville, Mill Creek and Monroe and in certain rural areas of the county's unincorporated areas. While the Snohomish City Council will discuss the city's prohibition in February, there are no signs leaders in the other communities or at the county are preparing to change course.

“I don't think a larger allotment is a good thing at this point,” said Snohomish County Councilman Brian Sullivan, who voted against the county ban. “We're not going to revisit (the ban). We're not going to expand our zoning to have an increase in the number of retailers.”

In Everett, it won't be easy to find a location to set up shop. City rules restrict marijuana businesses to specific areas and require a buffer of least 2,500 feet between stores to avoid any clustering.

City Planning Director Allen Giffen said he thought the most likely areas where new stores could be accommodated are in south Everett along routes such as Evergreen Way, Bothell-Everett Highway and Everett Mall Way.

The reason the state Liquor and Cannabis Board is taking this action is because the mostly unregulated medical marijuana market is getting merged with the heavily regulated recreational system.

By July 1, 2016, many dispensaries will be closing and the state wants to ensure their patients will have access to cannabis products they need when that happens.

The Liquor and Cannabis Board is working on two fronts.

First, existing marijuana businesses are obtaining an endorsement to sell products for medical use starting July 1 and an estimated 70 percent of them have done so, according to agency spokesman Brian Smith. Sixteen of the stores in Snohomish County had the endorsement as of Dec. 15, according to state records.

Second, it is increasing the number of stores even though the state is not close yet to reaching its current cap.

As of Friday, the state had licensed 223 stores and 195 were operating or reporting sales, Smith said.

But the state is now poring through nearly 1,200 applications for retail licenses including many from people looking to convert an existing medical marijuana dispensary to a licensed store.

About 100 of those have been given a higher priority because the applicant is someone who applied for a marijuana retail license before July 1, 2014 or operated or was employed by a collective garden before Jan. 1, 2013. In addition, these applicants have maintained a state and local business license and have a history of paying state taxes and fees.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; <URL destination="mailto:?subject=">

Finding a store

Today, up to 35 stores can be licensed to sell marijuana products in Snohomish County. In January, the number will double to 70. Here's how the state will be allocating those licenses regardless of whether a ban is in effect in a particular community:

Unincorporated areas: 32

Everett: 10

Marysville: 6

Edmonds: 4

Lynnwood: 4

Arlington: 2

Bothell (part): 2

Lake Stevens: 2

Mill Creek: 2

Monroe: 2

Mountlake Terrace: 2

Mukilteo: 2