Where were you a year ago when the thought of selling legal marijuana out of a retail store seemed like just a dream? It was something that we wanted, but in reality it seemed virtually impossible. After submitting the initial applications, we had to decide where we really wanted a store. We strategically chose locations with the highest probability to win the lottery. Our final decisions were based on many factors, including population, demographics and the amount of stores allotted by the Washington State Liquor Control Board. We also looked at the number of initial applicants in a particular area and particularly in areas that were not opposed to marijuana businesses. Simple stuff, right? After that, all we had to do was find a location that met the requirements and secure a legitimate letter of intent. Letter in hand, location cleared of restricted entities, this is when the ever so lovely waiting game began.
In the meantime, we acted as if we had already won the lottery. We made steps to educate the communities in which we planned to operate. We had no idea how many hurdles we would be jumping, or in most cases, crawling over.
For each license we have been working with, whether in a minor or major capacity, we are involved with the city government. We knew that although Initiative 502 passed by the vote of the people, many were unsure what the initiative actually meant. We needed them to know that we were normal people, just like them. We intend to have a successful business, in a highly regulated industry, without negatively impacting the community or surrounding businesses. Once they realized this, things became much clearer to them and less difficult for us.
Three of our clients, in different cities, have required this type of attention. In one case, we saw the public attempt to implement additional restrictions that would make it impossible to operate a retail store there. In another, we were influential in passing an ordinance to limit the amount of stores allowed in the city. In another, the city responded to the local authority letter sent out by the Liquor Control Board with a request for denial, due to issues beyond our client’s control. This client won the lottery, met all of the Liquor Control Board’s requirements and was properly zoned for I-502 retail within the city. We worked closely with the city and the Liquor Control Board and our client was given the approval to move forward. Delays such as these are common and oftentimes very costly. Our success came from attending city council meetings, talking with members and local residents, and publicly speaking out.
In all cases, working out the issues and being patient has prevailed. I have yet to find any form of government that works beyond a snail’s pace. If you are fortunate enough to have a location without a moratorium, ban or some other silly restriction, make sure to get all of your permits and follow the guidance of your Liquor Control Board agent. This too can be frustrating at times because of the workload that is placed on each of the licensing agents. They are fielding questions and doing all of the leg work that is required to make sure the licensee and location qualify. We have submitted numerous emails to agents without any response. Come to find out, their inboxes were inundated with too many emails in the evening and they never received them.
If you have a general question that can’t be answered on the Liquor Control Board’s website, call customer service and ask them. Save the complex questions for your licensing agent. Try to call them when all other resources have failed. In most cases, they prefer to communicate via email anyway. Thus far, there has been a lot of “he said, she said” in this industry. I recommend communicating via email for any/all conversations pertaining to your I-502 license. This protects you if there is ever a doubt in the future on a particular situation.
Our friends and business partners in the I-502 community have been very receptive to the assistance we can provide from our hands-on experience in conquering the entire retail process.
Several retailers have expressed that at one time or another, they wanted to give up. All they really needed was some motivation and a few helpful hints to continue moving forward to follow their dream. Keep on pushing, my friends … there is a very bright light at the end of this seemingly dark tunnel!
Colette Thomas is a partner of Recreational Marijuana Management, which provides consulting services for I-502 retailers on licensing and compliance. RMM has assisted multiple retailers pass final inspection and open for business.