The window for hopeful marijuana entrepreneurs closes at 5 p.m. Friday, and already it’s clear more people want to sell pot in some Pierce County communities than the state will allow.
As of Tuesday, 27 prospective businesses had applied for retail marijuana licenses in Tacoma, even though the state Liquor Control Board has said it will only license eight marijuana sellers in the city.
Applications for retail licenses in Puyallup also have exceeded the state’s quota, with six people looking to sell pot there despite state rules allowing only two licensed sellers in the jurisdiction.
Other cities — such as Bonney Lake, which has one allocated storefront — don’t have more applicants so far than the state is willing to license. University Place, which has been granted one license, had no applicants as of Tuesday.
Applications also are low in Lakewood, where city officials have said marijuana stores must prove they are legal under federal law to operate. State regulators have agreed to allow two marijuana stores in Lakewood, but only one application had come in as of Tuesday.
Meanwhile, applicants have submitted paperwork for nine potential storefronts in Gig Harbor even though the state hasn’t specifically allocated any retail licenses for the city.
State rules don’t specify the number of pot stores that can operate in Gig Harbor or in any Pierce County community outside of the five largest incorporated cities. Instead, they allow for 17 at-large pot store licenses in those other areas.
Pot shop entrepreneurs haven’t received the warmest welcome in outlying areas of Pierce County. The County Council has indefinitely banned recreational pot businesses from unincorporated areas, even if they’re granted a state license.
But local bans aren’t changing how the Liquor Control Board issues pot business licenses, agency spokesman Brian Smith said.
“Our intention is to issue licenses if they meet our licensing criteria,” he said Thursday.
State officials have requested that the state attorney general weigh in on the legality of local bans on licensed recreational marijuana businesses, Smith said. The liquor board expects the attorney general to issue an opinion on the matter in the next few months, he said.
Washington voters approved Initiative 502 in 2012 legalizing recreational marijuana use for those 21 and older. Statewide, businesses have submitted 512 applications for the 334 retail pot licenses the liquor board plans to issue.
Ultimately, the state will use a lottery system to decide who will receive the limited number of pot retail licenses in cities with high numbers of applicants, Smith said.
Though the details of that lottery have yet to be worked out, there is no plan to reallocate licenses destined for low-demand areas, Smith said.
The particulars of the lottery system will be decided later, Smith said, partly because regulators are waiting to see how many license applications come in. The total number of applicants for marijuana business licenses won’t be available until sometime in January because of a processing backlog at the Department of Revenue and the Liquor Control Board, Smith said.
“Then we can take a realistic look at what we have,” Smith said.
The liquor board also must investigate applicants to make sure they meet residency requirements and pass financial and criminal background checks. Investigators also must establish that applicants have a workable location not within 1,000 feet of schools, public parks, transit centers or other specified gathering areas.
The results of those investigations likely will winnow the applicant pool, Smith said.
“A lot of these people, they’re not going to get qualified or they don’t necessarily have a location yet,” Smith said. “When we go through the investigation process we’re finding some people don’t have an address that is really working.”
Unlike with retail marijuana stores, the state is not planning to limit the number of licenses it grants to marijuana producers and processors.
As of Tuesday, 78 businesses had applied to be licensed as marijuana producers in Pierce County, with 29 of those looking to locate in Tacoma.
Sixty businesses applied for marijuana processing licenses in the county, 22 of them in Tacoma.
The state plans to fast-track the licensing of marijuana producers and processors and issue licenses in March, Smith said.
Retail stores should be licensed in time to open in June, he said.
Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209