By Oliver Lazenby
Whatcom County marijuana entrepreneurs Ken and Susan Linse have opened a store across the street from Birch Bay Square at 3435 Birch Bay-Lynden Road in Custer on February 1.
The store, called Green Leaf NW, is the Linses’ third recreational marijuana shop. Their original Green Leaf NW store was one of the first pot shops in the county when it opened in 2014 at 4220 Meridian Street in Bellingham. The couple actually opened two stores on the same day, the Custer store and a second Bellingham store called The Joint.
Susan Linse said they picked the Custer location because there are no other marijuana stores between Blaine and Ferndale and because it’s close to Interstate 5.
“The ease of access is huge,” she said.
Green Leaf NW in Custer is one of the smaller pot retailers in the county. It’s in a 400-square-foot circular building that used to house a coffee stand called Espresso 2 Go, which closed on the last day of 2014 according to its Facebook page.
The store, like most recreational marijuana stores, carries marijuana in flower form and as pre-rolled joints. It also sells edibles, concentrated marijuana products, glass pipes and other smoking devices. Five employees work at the store.
So far, nearly half the store’s customers are Canadian, which is not unusual for Whatcom County pot shops. Company administrator Ardin Hoyt said Green Leaf NW’s original location north of Bellingham also has a lot of Canadian customers.
The store’s owners had wanted to open new locations for a while, but the rules restricting where a pot shop can open made the expansion tricky, Hoyt said. Marijuana stores must be at least 1,000 feet from schools, playgrounds, parks, public transit centers, libraries and other places where young people hang out. Retailers must also notify local authorities, which then have an opportunity to object to the chosen location.
High rents and an abundance of marijuana stores in Whatcom County added to the difficulty, Linse said. But in some ways it’s getting easier. Linse had more trouble in August 2014 when she opened her first store.
“Landlords are more comfortable with it now,” Linse said. “Two years ago, no one wanted to rent to a marijuana business.”
The Linses aren’t the only Whatcom County marijuana retailers who own more than one store. Top Shelf Cannabis and 2020 Solutions in Bellingham also run multiple locations.
The amount of legal marijuana sold in Washington has increased every month since retail sales began. In January 2016, Washington residents purchased pot at the rate of $2.5 million a day, a total of nearly 9,000 pounds for the month, according to Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) statistics.
Those figures are each more than twice what they were a year ago.
Not all retailers, however, have seen increased sales month after month. Taxable sales at some Whatcom County pot shops declined as new stores opened in the last year, according to data from the LCB.
Regulatory changes could soon change the sales mix for recreational stores. A law integrating the medical and recreational marijuana markets goes into effect on July 1. By then, all medical dispensaries will have to become recreational stores or close.
Green Leaf NW is one of several county retailers that got a medical endorsement from the state. The endorsement will allow the company to sell marijuana to medical patients without charging sales tax, according to the LCB website. But the board hasn’t yet outlined what training employees will have to go through before the endorsement takes effect, Linse said.
The way private companies deal with marijuana businesses is also in flux. A few months ago, Facebook and Instagram began deleting accounts for marijuana-related businesses. Green Leaf’s account vanished in mid-February, Linse said.
On the whole, Linse said the regulatory changes are positive and the LCB is making progress in ironing out the rules.
“We are moving forward,” she said. “I think it’s getting easier.”