Politics & Government

Lottery do-over might raise caps on marijuana stores

A few rejected applicants for state marijuana store licenses are getting a second chance at a golden ticket.

That means state-set caps on the number of marijuana stores might rise for some communities. It depends on the luck of the draw.

The state Liquor Control Board on Tuesday (Dec. 16) will conduct a miniature do-over of the lottery it used in April to rank 1,174 applications for 334 retail licenses.

The liquor board says it excluded more than 900 applications from that process because applicants’ locations, backgrounds or finances didn’t pass muster. While the agency stands behind the vast majority of those decisions, it has concluded a few were rejected in error.

“We’re owning up to those, and we think we have a fair and equitable way of treating them,” board spokesman Brian Smith said.

The board said it has reached agreement with eight applicants to resolve their cases by carrying out the new lottery.

Most of the errors happened when the board mapped the wrong address while checking if a store would violate a 1,000-foot buffer zone around schools, parks and the like, said Becky Smith, marijuana licensing and regulations manager for the liquor board. Many applicants moved their proposed addresses multiple times as they scrambled to find a viable spot.

The eight applicants receiving a new look are in Thurston County’s “at-large” area, Federal Way, King County’s at-large area (an Enumclaw address), Bremerton, Seattle, Lake Stevens, Bellingham and Spokane County (a Spokane address).

Others might join them. Dozens of rejected marijuana license applicants are in an appeals process. Of those considered so far, most rejections have been upheld on appeal. But at least one rejection based on a retail applicant’s criminal history has been reversed. The board is considering how to address that applicant.

Here’s an example of how the new lottery will work for one business, Good Life, that was wrongly rejected in the screening process.

Good Life applied using an address near Rochester, putting it in the “at-large” area of Thurston County, outside Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater. The liquor board designated six at-large slots, and there were 19 applicants that passed the screening process fighting for those spots.

Good Life’s name will be entered into a double-blind lottery with 19 blanks, simulating what would have happened if the company had been included before. Each will be ranked, and if Good Life wins one of the top six slots, the board will add it to the list of six license winners.

Joining the winner’s circle is no guarantee, however. Just two of the applicants who won those six Thurston at-large slots in the initial lottery have a license eight months later. One is in the Lacey area and the other in the Yelm area.