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Despite nearby lawsuit, Omak stands by pot law

Marijuana retail ban challenged by Wenatchee store

— One hopeful marijuana retailer has pre-emptively sued the city of Wenatchee over its business license laws, but Omak plans to remain steadfast in defending a similar ordinance should anyone take legal action.

SMP Retail, which could receive a state business license to open a shop at 1510 N. Wenatchee Ave. in Wenatchee, filed a lawsuit last week in Chelan County Superior Court.

Only one proposed retailer in Omak – The Sage Shop, 903 Engh Road No. C – has qualified to go through the last phase of the state licensing process. The company filed for a city business license Friday.

“We’re going to respond in a careful and measured way, and I don’t know what that is,” City Administrator Ralph Malone said.

The city has maintained it will not change its existing code, which states it cannot issue business licenses to any company whose operations are illegal under local, state or federal law.

“Is there the possibility that somebody could take us to court? Well, certainly,” Malone said. “I can’t predict what will happen.”

“I do know that we will adhere to what our ordinance says, and then I guess if we get challenged in court the question might be, would the court invalidate our ordinance? It’s been in place for decades, so it isn’t like we ran out and passed a new law to discriminate against a business that would otherwise be legal in Washington.”

The Sage Shop owner has asked that her identity be withheld for now, since she doesn’t yet have her state license. The state estimates it will begin issuing licenses in early July.

“It’s exciting, but at the same time I know there’s a lot more hoops to go through,” she said. “I think it could potentially bring a lot of benefits to the community, and that is definitely my vision with it. I’m a mom and a health care practitioner… and I just feel that if I have the opportunity to influence how it’s going to be handled in the community, I want to do it in the most positive way.”

Malone said the city is firm in its stance.

Regarding the Obama administration’s decision that it will not actively seek to prosecute marijuana businesses in Washington and Colorado, Malone said, “A discretionary failure to act doesn’t undo what the law says.”

Several other municipalities share a similar view, including Brewster and Bridgeport, while towns such as Winthrop have been working on adjusting their codes to fit the new state law.

The Winthrop Town Council approved a zoning ordinance amendment last week that would allow marijuana retailers to set up shop in the downtown and highway-area commercial districts.

Business owners could also obtain conditional use permits to operate in an industrial zone.

The decision falls in favor of resident Austin Lott, who plans to open a shop at 29 Horizon Flats Road Suite 7 if he receives a state license. That area is within the industrial zone.

The town Planning Commission and zoning administrator determined earlier this year that Lott’s proposal was not an approved use for the industrial zone, and the Town Council denied Lott’s appeal.

However, a public hearing last month drew feedback from several residents, the majority of whom were in favor of allowing marijuana businesses.

The other applicant proceeding through the state licensing process, Hamsterdam LLC, hopes to open a shop at 303 Riverside Ave. in the downtown commercial district.

The only other pre-qualified retail applicant in Okanogan County is located within the county at-large: 4USRetail, 23251 state Highway 20, Okanogan.

The state plans to grant licenses to a maximum of 334 hopeful recreational marijuana retailers across the state. Locally, that breaks down to five stores in Okanogan County, with one earmarked for Omak; three for Douglas County, with one shop in East Wenatchee; one for Ferry County at-large, and seven in Grant County, with one shop each to be located in Ephrata and Quincy and two shops for Moses Lake.

Companies in Grant County selected for further screening are Brandy’s Antiques, 226 Coulee Blvd. in Electric City; Rainbow Purple, 7835 state Highway 283 in Ephrata, and High Time Station, 1448 Basin St. N.W. in Ephrata.

Rainbow Purple is within Grant County at-large.

Six applicants were selected in Douglas County at-large. In order, they are Chronics in Rock Island; The Lid, 826 state Highway 173 Suite B in Brewster; Columbia Herbal in Waterville; The Roach in East Wenatchee; Green to Go in Wenatchee, and Holistic Healing Alternatives in Waterville.

Three applicants are listed for consideration in East Wenatchee: The Happy Crop Shoppe, Canabis Rock Island Road and Good Times Hemp.

In Ferry County, all three applicants have made it to the next round. They are Secret Herb Shop in Boyds; Mountain View Herbal, 4 Mid Mountain Road in Republic, and Weyzer Bud, 5 E. July St. in Danville.

About 55 percent of voters across the state supported Initiative 502 in 2012, which legalizes possession of recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older. Amounts are limited to one ounce of marijuana, 16 ounces in solid form or 72 ounces in liquid form.

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