The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (the “Board”) is currently accepting new retail marijuana license applications. Retail licenses will be issued based upon the merit criteria set forth in the Cannabis Patient Protection Act, which was passed earlier this year and discussed in a prior blog post.
One of the biggest hurdles that new retail applicants will likely face is where to locate their new business. Many jurisdictions ban marijuana businesses outright and others heavily restrict where these businesses may locate. The northwest corner of Washington State, for example, would appear at first glance to be marijuana business friendly. But, as many of my clients have found out the hard way, each city and county in this area of Cascadia has its own unique set of rules and regulations in regard to siting a marijuana business.
Whatcom County, for example, limits retail marijuana uses to its Small Town Commercial, Rural General Commercial and Neighborhood Commercial. Retail uses in the Small Town and Neighborhood Commercial zones are further limited to 2500 square feet. Notably, marijuana retailers are prohibited in the Rural zone.
The only cities in Whatcom County that currently allow retail marijuana uses are Bellingham, which allows marijuana retail businesses in its Commercial and Industrial zones, and Ferndale, which allows these businesses in its Regional Retail, Gateway Development, Mixed Use Commercial, General Business, and City Center zones. Everson, Nooksack and Lynden prohibit marijuana businesses. Skagit County and its incorporated areas (i.e. Mount Vernon, Burlington, Anacortes, etc.) each have their own set of regulations and zoning rules re marijuana businesses. For more information on Skagit County, see our website.
Keep in mind that even if you find a location that allows marijuana retail uses per a local zoning rules, a marijuana business cannot be located within 1000 feet of a school, playground, library, transit center, game arcade, recreation center, or child care center. This additional buffer requirement further restricts where marijuana businesses may locate even in permissible zoning districts. Additionally, each jurisdiction’s building code requirements should be reviewed when constructing a new building or improving an existing structure as these building regulations may affect the cost and feasibility of your business operation.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of fully vetting the laws and regulations of the local jurisdiction in which you wish to locate your marijuana business. Fully understanding local zoning rules and developing a good relationship with the local planning department is key to operating a successful business.
For more information on the regulation of marijuana businesses in Washington State, please contact Heather Wolf.