Marijuana regulators will allow 15 Whatcom County stores

The Washington State Liquor Control Board will allow up to 15 marijuana retail stores in Whatcom County, including at least six in Bellingham, according to a list of license allocations regulators released on Sept. 4.

The board also announced that it is ready to file a series of revised rules that would govern Washington’s marijuana retail market, from production to sale. The rules will be subject to public hearings in early October (with times and locations yet to be announced), before a final vote on adoption will be made. That final vote has been scheduled for Oct. 16, according to the board.

The revisions are updates to proposed rules that were released by the board back in July. Due to the amount of feedback from five public meetings held around the state in August, the board chose to refine its rules and re-issue them for additional comments before making a final decision.

If the rules are adopted, the board will open a 30-day window on Nov. 16 to accept license applications for producers, processors and retailers. State regulators say licenses would be issued, at the earliest, in December or January.

Retail-license allocations were chosen on a county-by-county basis using population data from the state’s Office of Financial Management, as well as adult consumption data gathered by BOTEC Analysis Corp., a private company hired as a consultant to the state to help implement the new system, mandated by last year’s successful Initiative 502.

Statewide, the board will allow up to 334 marijuana retail outlets.

Cities with larger populations were given a proportionate number of license allocations, based on available data, and “at-large” licenses were also allocated for outlying communities and unincorporated areas in each county.

Of Whatcom County’s 15  allocations:

– Six are in Bellingham.
– Both Ferndale and Lynden each get one.
– Seven are “at-large.”

As part of its revisions, the board proposed several limitations designed to ensure one license holder cannot monopolize the market.

They cannot have more than three licenses total, either for producing, processing or selling marijuana. They can also not hold more than 33 percent of the retail licenses allocated to a county or city.

This means an individual cannot hold licenses for more than two marijuana stores within Bellingham’s city limits, and no more than four in Whatcom County.

Should there be more applicants than available license allocations for a specific area, the board is proposing a lottery system be used to select locations. Guidelines for such a system are still in development.

Retailers will need to follow their local municipal zoning rules, and the board has stated that cities could conceivably zone out cannabis-related business.

Last month, the Bellingham City Council dropped a short-lived moratorium on marijuana retail within city limits. The city is expected to soon issue permanent rules on how such enterprises would be handled on a local regulatory level.

Some additional notes on cannabis retail (according to the board’s updated rules):

– All sales would have to take place in a licensed retail establishment, meaning no online or delivery sales would be allowed.

– Medical marijuana and recreational retail marijuana could not be sold within the same store.

– Stores would have to close by midnight, and they cannot begin selling before 8 a.m.

– Opened marijuana containers or products would not be allowed inside stores, meaning customers cannot handle their pot before buying it. Retailers would be allowed to keep sample jars with plastic or mesh screens to allow customers to smell varieties before making purchases.

– The board would not set prices, but retailers would be required to mark up their products and not sell them below acquisition cost.

– Retailers would be able to keep four months’ worth of inventory on hand.

– While producers, processors and retailers would be able to give product samples to each other, stores would not be allowed to do so for customers.

The liquor board has released a document highlighting its recent updates to the proposed rules (View that here).

The board has also updated a “frequently asked questions” document about the I-502 implementation process (View that one here).

Evan Marczynski, staff reporter for The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or

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