Past a neon “OPEN” sign in the window, an arcade has a few Pac-Man and pinball machines and no visitors. It’s not the same for the marijuana store next door, though both are owned by the same person.
Charles Justin West, the owner of Cascade Herb Company, was approved to open an arcade next to his marijuana store in April.
The arcade became a source of concern in September 2015 when the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board told the owners of Trove Cannabis they could not be issued a marijuana business license because an arcade had opened within 1,000 feet of the newly-constructed building.
“I drive on Samish Way every day, and every time I see it, it looks like nothing is open,” Trove Cannabis co-owner and Western alumnus Yin-Ho Lai said.
When asked about the purpose of the arcade, West said it is simply an investment into a new small business and he did not want to give details about his business plans publicly.
“There was no great intent, nor an assumption, that putting an arcade in that location would prevent the fellows over at Trove from opening up their business,” West said. “There are efforts made in any business, that are business efforts, they are not any sort of personal attacks or anything.”
In April 2015, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill to allow local jurisdictions to reduce the 1,000-foot barrier to 100 feet between retail marijuana stores and any place frequented by children, including arcades.
On Sept. 28, 2015, the Bellingham City Council approved a public emergency ordinance lowering the barrier to 100 feet, becoming one of the first cities in Washington to do so.
With this new amendment, previously restricted sites, such as child-care centers and libraries — with the exception of schools — can now be located within 100 feet of marijuana stores waiting for their licenses to be approved.
Previously, only licensed marijuana businesses were protected from having to relocate.
The City Council meeting came at an opportune time for Lai and his attorney to speak in favor of lowering the buffer, Lai said.
Heather Wolf, a Bellingham attorney at Brownlie Evans Wolf and Lee who represents Trove Cannabis, was one of the first people Lai called after an investigator told him about the arcade.
“When these rules were written, I don’t think they anticipated there would be these lag times between when someone applies for a license and when they are approved,” Wolf said.
Lai said it was shocking to hear the news that the arcade was being built, but they would fight to keep their business in tact.
“We knew about this loophole. It wasn’t anything we didn’t know of — we just thought we would be grandfathered in,” Lai said.
Kurt Nabbefeld, the lead planner overseeing the City’s marijuana regulations, was a part of the team who wrote the amendment the City Council passed in late September. The amendment was created to ensure businesses were treated fairly, he said.
When Nabbefeld was sifting through business applications, he recognized West’s name under the arcade’s address, and knew it was a restricted site next to a marijuana retail store. In response, the planning department informed the Liquor and Cannabis Board.
An arcade owned by the same owner as a marijuana store alarmed Nabbefeld, because the law was put in place to protect children.
“The rules are supposed to be protecting you, but what are you doing? You’re opening a business that caters to the group we’re supposed to be protecting,” Nabbefeld said.
However, West said the placement of the arcade is not an attempt to attract children.
“I absolutely do not have any interest in trying to attract any sort of minors into the area,” West said.
Up until now, this was the first time Nabbefeld has seen an arcade block a marijuana store from opening in Bellingham, he said. It’s a trend they’ve been seeing in other areas like Seattle.
Capitol Hill’s first marijuana store in Seattle, Tok, opened earlier this week after being blocked by an arcade across the street, according to the Capitol Hill Seattle blog.
The Liquor and Cannabis Board issued Tok a marijuana retail license after they found the arcade had not obtained a permit. The owner of the Capitol Hill Family Arcade, Ian Eisenberg, also owns Uncle Ike’s Pot Shop down the road, according to the Capitol Hill Seattle blog.
“I think it’s very problematic that the state has given the cities and the counties so much power to restrict where these businesses can locate,” Wolf said.
Despite the obstacles Trove Cannabis has faced to obtain their retail marijuana license, they are trying to be a good neighbor to the other marijuana stores on Samish Way, Lai said.
“We welcome competition,” Lai said. “I think it’s good for the industry, and there’s enough demand out there that both parties can do business without stomping on each other’s toes.”
Trove will be putting the finishing touches on the store before its grand opening on Friday, Nov. 13, according to Trove’s website. The arcade’s grand opening has yet to be announced.
Editor’s Note: The Western Front News Editor, Tyler Hillis, contributed to this story.