State allots more retail pot shops to Island County

Marijuana flowers

Oak Harbor can become home to a second state-licensed marijuana retailer, and the rest of Island County can host an additional two stores, under measures proposed this week by staffers at the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Board. The measure, which a spokesperson predicted will be approved Jan. 6 by that agency’s three board members, is meant to ensure medical patients have enough access to products they need.

“There will be more storefronts for patients, going forward, than are available today,” Rick Garza, director of the board, said in prepared remarks. Statewide, the new measure increases the number of permissible licensed marijuana retailers to 556, from 334.

Under a state law enacted earlier this year — 2SSB 5052, the Cannabis Patient Protection Act — Washington’s unregulated medical marijuana market will be integrated into the tightly regulated recreational marijuana market.

Most of the applicants for the new retail licenses will be former owners of medical marijuana dispensaries, said Brian Smith, a board spokesperson. Under that law, dispensaries will be phased out by July 1, 2016. It is not known how many dispensaries are located on Whidbey, because they are unregulated and unlicensed.

Currently, Kaleafa is Oak Harbor’s only licensed recreational marijuana retailer. Bayview and Camano each have one such retailer — Whidbey Island Cannabis Co. and Bud Hut, respectively. Island Herb, in Freeland, is set to open in March 2016.

As of Dec. 15, only two pending Island County applications were on file with the board to become a retailer. One was from Whidbey Island Weedery, at 11219 Highway 525 in Clinton. The other was from WI, at 7634 Maxwelton Road in Clinton. No names or phone numbers were listed.

A priority system will determine which applicants will be considered first. Those who applied for a retail license before July 1, 2014; operated or were employed by a collective garden before Jan. 1, 2013; have maintained state and local business licenses; and have a history of paying state taxes and fees will be given first priority.

Considered second priority are those who operated or were employed by a collective garden before Jan. 1, 2013; have maintained state and local business licenses; and have a history of paying state taxes and fees. Third priority are all others.

Recreational marijuana stores can and do sell marijuana that’s usable, though perhaps not optimal, for medical purposes. It is higher in cannabidiol (CBD) and lower in THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), so that smokers don’t get as high but get more pain relief.

But if recreational marijuana retailers register with the state and receive a free medical endorsement, they gain new rights, while also taking on new responsibilities. Starting July 1, 2016, customers can be entered into a database by presenting their medical authorization to a licensed retail store with a medical marijuana endorsement. If a customer is in the database, endorsed retailers will be able to sell that customer three times the then-current limit on marijuana, and will not charge sales tax — currently 6.5 percent — on any purchases. That savings gives customers an incentive to shop at endorsed retailers.

Endorsed retailers must carry concentrates and infused products identified as “medical grade” by the Washington Department of Health. They must enter qualified patients and providers into the database, administered by the Health Department. They must issue medical marijuana “patient recognition” cards developed by the state health department and must keep several types of records.

The newly licensed retailers will not be compelled to obtain a medical endorsement, Smith said. Some 70 percent of licensed retailers already have an endorsement, the Liquor and Cannabis Board said.

The state’s overall marijuana market generates $1.3 billion in revenue, according to a report the board released this week. Of that, $480 million, or 37 percent, comes from retail sales of medical marijuana; $460 million, or 35 percent, comes from recreational marijuana sales; and $390 million, or 28 percent, comes from illicit sales.

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