Permit headache douses Bayview pot biz

Maureen Cooke - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Maureen Cooke
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

The wait for legal weed on South Whidbey may be longer than first thought.

Whidbey Island Cannabis Company lacks the proper permits to open one of the state’s first recreational marijuana stores, and the county planning director alerted shop owner Maureen Cooke five days before the new business received the state’s OK.

David Wechner, Island County’s planning director, said his department issued a stop work order to Cooke on July 2. The Washington State Liquor Control Board issued the first 24 recreational marijuana licenses July 7, and Cooke’s was on top of the list. She had hoped to open the store earlier this week, but was unable to get any legally produced and processed marijuana in time.

In the interim, she wrote to the Island County commissioners asking for them to reconsider their order.

The Bayview store needs a type 2 land-use permit and a building permit for work done inside the roughly 875-square-foot shop on Kramer Road. Cooke was irate with the county and the cost of the permits.

“They’re just going to extort $2,500 out of me,” she said.

“If they’re going to prevent me from opening and want me to pay $2,500, I’m going to pay the goddamn thing. I’m pissed,” she later added.

Wechner said he spoke with Cooke about the county’s ordinance requiring recreational marijuana retail locations to go through these processes. Cooke confirmed they spoke, but added that she said she did not understand why her store had added requirements for a business legalized by the state.

Washington voters approved Initiative 502, legalizing recreational marijuana consumption and possession up to one ounce, in November 2012. It has taken the Washington State Liquor Control Board nearly 18 months to set out the rules and process applications for the production, distribution and sale — three distinct parts of the business.

Work done inside the shop included new flooring, carpeting, installing state-mandated security measures like alarms, barred windows, gated doors, cameras and safes.

“I could understand the fee if it was for a new house, a new subdivision, a commercial redo,” Cooke said. “It’s none of that. It’s cosmetic stuff for a retail spot.”

Wechner said the store’s purpose—selling recreational marijuana—is fine with the county. The issue is that the county approved an ordinance in May with added steps for a new industry, and that includes a public comment process and possible appeals, based on things like parking, traffic, lighting and hours of operation.

“The ordinance allows the use,” Wechner said. “It’s the potential impacts to the area or the public as a whole that we’re trying to address … If they simply want to object to a marijuana business, that ship has sailed.”

Island County’s process is similar to a tavern, Wechner said. The Washington State Liquor Control board issues the liquor license, but the county still oversees the building and location regulations.

Wechner said her store likely meets all the requirements but must go through the two-permit processes.

“I would anticipate that she can receive her permit for it, certainly,” he said. “But she doesn’t have one and hasn’t applied.”

Cooke planned to speak with the county, though she was upset that her letter to the commissioners was not replied to in a timely manner. She also said she would contact her lawyer.

“I’ll get this thing resolved. I have to. It’s too important,” Cooke said. “If it was a shoe store, they wouldn’t make me go through that.”


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