Washington state cannabis retailer opens in defiance of county ban

Thu Mar 5, 2015 11:08am EST
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By Eric M. Johnson

PARKLAND, Wash. (Reuters) - Sealed bags of marijuana dangle behind a counter, curved glass pipes glimmer on shelves, and a steady trickle of middle-aged customers gleefully buys cannabis strains nicknamed Charlie Sheen and Godzilla.

"The Gallery" is similar to more than 100 other lawful state-licensed marijuana retail shops and hundreds of medical dispensaries in Washington state, with one exception: It is operating in defiance of local law.

Its opening on Sunday set up a potential showdown with authorities in Pierce County, about an hour outside Seattle, which has effectively banned recreational pot shops in unincorporated areas so long as the drug remains illegal under federal law, even as medical pot businesses flourish virtually unregulated.

"We didn't do this to pick a fight with the county," said co-owner Tedd Wetherbee, 47, in between chatting up customers in his shop in Parkland, in unincorporated Pierce County.

"But at the same time we are state-licensed legitimate businessmen that want to do what the county seems to let other people do without any license."

Since Washington state legalized recreational marijuana in a landmark 2012 vote that ushered in licensed retail pot shops in July, scores of municipalities have passed laws curbing their operations, from constricted zoning to outright bans.

That has frustrated would-be pot entrepreneurs, such as Wetherbee, who are keen to capitalize on what they call a glut of recreational-use marijuana products with few stores licensed to sell it. Fifty-four percent of Pierce County voters backed marijuana legalization.

"This act of theater will either embolden a bunch of other people to do it, or it will create really great PR for him," said Dominic Corva, executive director at the Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy.   Continued...

An attendee holds out several marijuana buds at the High Times U.S. Cannabis Cup in Seattle, Washington, in this file photo taken September 8, 2013.    REUTERS/Jason Redmond/Files