After the hoopla settled down after the grand opening of Seattle’s first state-licensed retail marijuana store in July, pot aficionados found that retail stores were hard to find.
Marijuana retail licenses were issued through a lottery system – and were supposed to be a golden ticket for those who received them, especially in urban areas like Seattle where it was competitive.
But now some of the lucky ticket holders are biding their time, saying there’s too much uncertainty to open a store. Some are dealing with location or supply issues.
Take Greenside Medical, for example. It’s a licensed retail store in Bellevue, and when you call, a recorded message answers: “We’d like to be open but we are waiting for Bellevue to figure out the 1,000-foot buffer rule.”
John Davis, who owns two medical dispensaries and is the CEO of Seattle Hempfest, says that state regulators are to blame for the short supply of legal pot. He said awarding retail licenses through a lottery, rather than looking for relevant experience or funding, means many license holders won’t succeed.
“I had two locations already built out, already able to do business and I entered the lottery and just got higher numbers,” he said. “Of course I would have been able to open up.”
Davis is one medical provider who wants to get into the recreational market. He said he knows of willing customers eager for recreational marijuana. “Clearly the demand’s there even at the higher prices,” Davis said.
But another medical provider says that because of Initiative 502, which legalized marijuana in Washington state, she will probably close her dispensary in the next 100 days.
Muraco Kyashna-tocha runs the Green Buddha Patient Co-op, a dispensary in Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood. Now she’s looking for a new job. She said she has advocated merging the gray market of medical marijuana into the state-licensed one.
“A lot of my clients drive an hour and a half each way to come to me,” Kyashna-tocha said. “This makes no sense to come buy $100 worth of product. So I am encouraging my clients to utilize the 502 system.”
Her one concern, she said, is that the state abandoned its earlier proposal to test licensed marijuana for pesticides. Kyashna-tocha is worried that ill people, especially, could face health effects from pesticide residue.
“I kind of feel like I’ve been lying” to medical clients, she said, because she assured them that the I-502 system would fit their needs. That’s still something she hopes to see changed.
As people wait for marijuana retail stores to get up and running, other marijuana-centric businesses spring up every day. One is Kush Tourism, which takes tour groups to visit cannabis culture at glass-blowing studios, cooking demonstrations and grow operations. The company works with a network of marijuana-friendly hotels and bed-and-breakfasts.
Michael Gordon started Kush Tourism earlier this year. He said what’s missing right now is a place for his tour groups to legally buy and use marijuana.
“Essentially right now Seattle works on a network of speakeasies, places where you can consume cannabis. It’s not in the public but it’s also living in the gray area,” he said. “So we need to see the city step up, and I know they’re working on legislation right now to allow for things like vapor lounges, but it’s not quite there yet.”
So what’s filling the gap? Gordon said Kush Tourism doesn’t provide marijuana. Rather, he directs people to the classifieds.
“You have marijuana delivery services right there," he said, pointing to the back page of The Stranger. "We just let our customers know they can pick up a Stranger magazine,” he said.
Once the stores do open, Gordon said they’re sure to be a stop for his tour groups.
Liquor Control Board spokesman Mikhail Carpenter said most retailers seem to be waiting for sufficient supplies of state-sanctioned marijuana before they open. Once the board has issued all the allotted licenses, Carpenter said they’ll evaluate the market and see what changes or additions, if any, are needed.