Pot applicants get more time to establish locations

The state is giving potential business owners another 30 days to secure legal addresses.

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State officials said last month they’d immediately disqualify any application for a marijuana business license tied to an improper address, such as a home or location within 1,000 feet of a venue frequented by minors.

The culling had already started, according to the state Liquor Control Board. About 500 such businesses were quickly identified and would soon receive disqualification letters, said Brian Smith, a spokesman for the board.

But no letters went out.

Instead, the board has reversed what appeared to be its firm position last month. It is now allowing applicants 30 days from the time they receive notice from the board to secure a legal address. Notifications started going out about two weeks ago.

The board is allowing entrepreneurs who applied with an illegal location to change to a legal one.

For now, the impact of the board’s reversal is to keep many more entrepreneurs in the hunt for a license, which dismays applicants who had secured compliant locations, sometimes at a cost.

The change also marks another delay in the process of creating a legal marijuana industry with 334 retail stores and 2 million square feet of farms. The new legal-marijuana law took effect in December 2012. Stores are not projected to open until summer.

In Walla Walla County, there are now 10 applicants seeking retail licenses. Many of the applicants, such as Walla Walla resident Steve Fuller, have filed applications with placeholder addresses.

In Fuller’s case his retail application lists the location as his home address. But in an interview in December, Fuller said he has no intention of operating the business from there.

Exactly where he would site a retail operation is one of the unknowns, among many, Fuller said he was working through as the application process proceeds.

In addition to the retail applicants, there are 20 applicants from Walla Walla County seeking a combination of production and processing licenses to both grow and process pot for retail sale. Another two applicants are seeking processor only licenses and one applicant is seeking a license to only grow recreational marijuana.

The board is addressing these recent changes gingerly. Officials responded to questions in writing. Board Chair Sharon Foster declined to comment further.

After stating last month that applicants needed to start with a legal location or face immediate disqualification, Smith said, “we decided that everyone who applied for a license should be provided with the same benefit of 30 days” to supply evidence they had secured a legal location.

If entrepreneurs fail to come up with a legal location in 30 days, Smith said, their applications would be dismissed.

Some have speculated that the change was made to help entrepreneurs who had applied in cities and counties that have imposed bans on legal pot businesses. But Smith said that was not a factor.

The stakes are high, particularly for retail licenses. The state plans to license 334 stores and has more than 2,200 retail applications to review. If there are more qualified applicants than stores, after background checks and other vetting, the state would use a lottery to determine winners.

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