Retail pot licensing window to close; no new shops coming to Blaine or Birch Bay

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By Oliver Lazenby

The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) has more qualified applicants for new retail marijuana stores than it can legally accommodate and will stop accepting new applications on March 31.

The board started accepting new retail store applicants last October to prepare for the end of the medical marijuana marketplace. Medical marijuana dispensaries will have to obtain retail licenses by July 1, 2016 or close, forcing medical customers into the retail marketplace.

The new licensing window led to a profusion of new applicants throughout the state and in Whatcom County. Most of that activity is in Bellingham, however, and no new stores have been proposed for Blaine, Birch Bay or the surrounding area as of March 16.

“We are at the point where the number of highest priority applicants will exceed the number of available retail licenses,” said Becky Smith, the board’s licensing division director, in a press release. “We’ll meet the retail cap with priority ones and twos that we’re already processing.”

Priority ones and twos refers to the board’s criteria for issuing new retail licenses. Applicants that have previously applied for a retail license, operated a collective garden or medical dispensary, maintained a business license and paid taxes get the highest priority as the board considers new applications.

Whatcom County currently has 16 licensed retailers and has received 32 new license applications. Of those pending licenses, 28 are in Bellingham.

The board will only issue 13 more licenses in the county. The board caps the number of retail licenses per county and Whatcom County is allowed 29 total, according to data on its website.

Statewide, the LCB has more than 1,300 pending retail license applications, but can only issue 273 more.

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