Gig Harbor’s pot position blocks store plans

Businessman who received 2 lottery slots from the Liquor Control Board says city’s moratorium is unfair

Staff writerJune 8, 2014 

Tedd Wetherbee, shown inside the planned site of The Gallery, spent months, and, he said, $60,000 setting up his pot shop. He had planned an opening once his retail license was issued in July.

DAVID RYDER REUTERS

Tedd Wetherbee wants to sell recreational marijuana in Gig Harbor. He also has tens of thousands of dollars worth of art from his private collection waiting to be affixed to the walls of a 1,500-square-foot retail space on Soundview Drive.

The art amassed from living in West Africa, South America and southern Florida is what Wetherbee says will separate his pot business from other entrepreneurs looking to cash in on Washington’s new industry.

“We wanted to be part of marijuana retail, but we wanted to create something that would be the complete antithesis of what people think about when they think about marijuana,” said Wetherbee, 46.

He has yet to get state or city approval, but says he’s already invested roughly $60,000 in the business he has branded The Gallery.

One hurdle that stands in Wetherbee’s way is an emergency six-month moratorium on marijuana operations that the Gig Harbor City Council adopted in April. He was vocally opposed when the council did that and hinted at possible legal action.

The public will have a chance to chime in Monday when the City Council takes testimony about the moratorium.

The city might find itself torn over the issue. On the one hand, 54 percent of Gig Harbor voters supported the recreational use of marijuana when Initiative 502 went before voters in 2012. On the other hand, some residents and institutions, including the Peninsula School Board, have raised grave concerns about allowing marijuana businesses.

Although the council has the ability to end the moratorium Monday, Mayor Jill Guernsey said she doesn’t expect a decision.

“It’s a catch your breath kind of thing,” Guernsey said of the moratorium.

It is set to expire in October.

SLOTS 2 AND 9

The numbers were in Wetherbee’s favor last month when the state had its lottery for store pot licenses.

Pierce County unincorporated areas and small cities were given an allocation of 17 licenses. When the state Liquor Control Board announced the lottery rank of businesses in line to get a license, Wetherbee received slots 2 and 9.

He plans to use the first slot for a shop in Gig Harbor and the second for a shop in Fife.

Pot moratoriums in both cities have held up his plans.

A six-year Gig Harbor resident, Wetherbee has been outspoken about his frustrations. He has joined the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce and regularly attends City Council meetings.

“This isn’t an issue about being pro- or anti-marijuana, it’s an issue about a state-licensed business not being able to operate,” he said last week. “Since September of last year, the City Council has indicated clearly that Initiative 502 businesses would have a place in Gig Harbor. To have it turned around, that’s a concern to us.”

His growing public profile prompted some in the community to look into his background, which includes brushes with the law in Florida in the early to mid-1990s. Wetherbee isn’t hiding his past, he said, but he questions the motives of those looking to dig up dirt on him.

“I do have a criminal record from about 25 years ago from when I was a very young man. Those things don’t tie to my application at all,” he said. “This doesn’t affect my (marijuana) application in any way. It’s all public record, I have nothing to hide.”

Wetherbee declined to discuss the criminal citations, but records show he faced charges of grand theft, insurance fraud and filing a false police report. He also had a lesser misdemeanor charge of driving with a suspended license.

Wetherbee said he was up-front with the Liquor Control Board on his application about his past. He added that he has no drug-related charges.

The Liquor Control Board expects some applicants to have criminal pasts, said spokesman Brian Smith. The state is focused on criminal history in the past 10 years and won’t look beyond, he said.

To be eligible for the lottery, Wetherbee had to pass an initial round of screening. Next, he and other applicants will be subject to a more intense review.

“There’s no bar of entry just to apply, but coming out on the other end to be licensed you have to pass a rigorous criminal, financial and residential background check,” Smith said.

That includes a review by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, he said.

Wetherbee expects no problems and said he hopes the City Council will make an educated decision on how to handle its latest round of questions that prompted the moratorium.

DISTRICT OBJECTIONS

The Gig Harbor City Council authorized the six-month moratorium April 14, citing concerns with the proximity of a Peninsula School District-operated site to Wetherbee’s proposed pot business.

Taking advantage of the time-out, the School Board approved a resolution last month stating its opposition to marijuana businesses in the city. The resolution was sent to the city, and a representative will be at Monday’s meeting.

The School District runs its Career Transition Program, or CTP, from an office space on Soundview Drive.

Because it’s considered a “nontraditional” school site, the CTP wasn’t listed on maps used by the state to approve licensees. Initiative 502 requires that marijuana businesses be at least 1,000 feet from designated schools, parks, recreation centers and other locations where children are present.

The law does not identify how to handle nontraditional sites like the CTP, where students with varying abilities are connected with jobs and programs to help them achieve independence after high school.

The City Council chose the moratorium to give city staff “a little time-out to address the issues that were raised,” Gig Harbor senior planner Lindsey Sehmel said.

Sehmel is waiting for council direction to address the nontraditional school site issue.

Wetherbee and his business partner, whom he declined to name, are eager for a resolution in Gig Harbor. They’re also waiting for a pot moratorium to expire in Fife in August.

Once the cities are ready to accept applications, Wetherbee said he’s ready to go.

“I could be open the day I get my license,” he said.

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