It has been an exciting year for marijuana businesses in Washington State and I feel fortunate to have been able to advise many of these businesses in regard to navigating state and local rules and regulations.
One of the most interesting matters that I encountered this year relates to the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board’s (“LCB”) 1000 foot buffer rule. The rule precludes the LCB from issuing a license to any marijuana business located within 1000 feet of a school, playground, library, recreation center, child care center, park, transit center or game arcade.
A client of mine, who was days away from obtaining the final building inspection of its retail marijuana store, came to me because the LCB informed them that they would not be issued a retail marijuana license. The LCB had just learned that a game arcade had opened within 1000 feet of my client’s retail store location.
What to do? We considered petitioning the LCB for a rule change to amend the rule so that the LCB is prohibited from processing an application rather than issuing a license if the proposed location violates the 1000 foot buffer rule. In other words, after a marijuana license applicant files its application with the LCB, the 1000 foot buffer would no longer apply and the applicant would be protected from a school, daycare, game arcade, etc. locating within 1000 feet while the license application is pending.
The problem with petitioning for a rule change was that time was of the essence. My client had already purchased the land and spent a great deal of time and money completing construction of the store only to be told that they would not be able to now operate at this location. The business had also submitted all required building and development permits and was in compliance with all city code requirements.
We thus decided to take advantage of the recently enacted Marijuana Market Reform Bill, which allows jurisdictions to decrease the 1000 buffer for game arcades and other entities. At the time, the City of Bellingham was considering the extension of its interim marijuana ordinance and we were able to have the buffer issue considered as part of this process. After hearing public testimony and Planning Staff recommendations, the City Council decided to reduce the 1000 buffer to 100 feet for marijuana applicants with vested building permit applications. The City of Bellingham’s ordinance can be found here.
As a result of the City’s actions, Trove Cannabis was able to obtain its license from the LCB and open its retail store along Samish Way in Bellingham. We were pleased to be able to work with the City of Bellingham on this issue. Other cities, such as Seattle, are also considering buffer reductions in recognition of the difficulty in finding suitable marijuana business locations.
One lesson from this case is to never underestimate the importance of working with and having good relations with your local jurisdiction. Complying with local zoning and building regulations as well as demonstrating that your business is an asset to the community is critical for long term success.
For more information on the regulation of marijuana businesses, please contact Heather Wolf.