State’s marijuana license lottery will not pause for appeals

Staff writerApril 30, 2014 

A judge Wednesday refused to halt the state government’s lottery for licenses to operate marijuana stores.

The state Liquor Control Board is holding lotteries for each part of the state where there’s competition for a limited number of retail licenses. The winners were chosen last week. The board expects to announce them by Friday, then start considering the winning applicants for 334 licenses.

On the outside looking in: hundreds of applicants who learned days before the lottery they had been disqualified.

Two of them, Angel Swanson and Mark Dixon, asked Thurston County Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy to stop the release of names of winners in their parts of Pierce and Skagit counties while they appeal their disqualifications. She declined.

“I recognize that there are very serious rights at issue here,” Murphy said, “and my denial is based in part on the state’s representation that there very well may be a remedy that would be adequate to the applicants who are successful in their administrative appeals.”

A lawyer for the state acknowledged it’s not clear what that remedy would be. The lottery will be over by then and the winners, or runners-up if winners are disqualified, may have their licenses in hand.

The state lawyer, Assistant Attorney General Kim O’Neal, said a court could order the liquor board to give them a license  demanding additional stores or, less likely, bumping a lottery winner.

With that possibility looming, Murphy urged the board to notify apparent lottery winners up front they might be displaced.

Still, Murphy said she recognized the need to move ahead with licensing. The board wants stores open by July.

Out of more than 2,100 applicants, about 1,000 were disqualified ahead of the lottery, said Liz Hallock, the attorney for Swanson and Dixon.

Swanson runs a medical marijuana shop, the Cannabis Emporium, in unincorporated central Pierce County. She wants to sell products in Washington’s newly legal recreational market. But Hallock says the board told Swanson she didn’t prove she has a right to use the property where her current business is located, even though she provided a copy of her lease. Hallock suspects a software glitch.

Dixon is seeking a license in Mount Vernon. Hallock said the liquor board cited his criminal record in disqualifying him. But she said his felony conviction was for growing marijuana in the 1980s. Under rules written by the liquor board, convictions more than 10 years old aren’t relevant.

O’Neal defended the vetting process. Considering the number of applicants, the error rate appears to be very small, she said.

The case is personal for Hallock, whose application for a store in Longview was also rejected. She is asking a Cowlitz County judge to halt the lottery in Longview, and has won a temporary pause.

There could be many more court proceedings ahead before stores are sorted out.

“The only solution that will protect the state from hefty lawsuits is to grant every candidate with a successful appeal a license,” said Matt Dixon, Mark Dixon’s son. “If they don’t, the successful appellants could sue, and if they bump others off the list, those people could sue.”

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