Of the seven medical marijuana shops that dotted Pacific Avenue in Tacoma just weeks ago, Kronic Connection at South 72nd Street was the only one showing signs of life Friday.
Signs of life, but no pot sales. Behind the counter, owner Michael Wright and manager Darcy Davis fought back tears as customers stopped in looking for marijuana products.
“We’re closed. The state shut us down,” Wright repeated.
He was awaiting the city of Tacoma’s tax and license code enforcement team, which arrived shortly after lunch. The team was there less than 30 seconds, took a quick look around and after seeing nothing illegal, walked out, Davis said.
Most of the city compliance teams’ other stops Friday, the deadline for unlicensed medical marijuana dispensaries to close as part of the state’s effort to eliminate unregulated medical shops and merge medical marijuana into the regulated recreational market, were similarly uneventful.
Of the 27 dispensaries code enforcement officers visited Friday, almost all were closed. Blinds were pulled and doors locked; many had posted the warning letter the city delivered Thursday to their front doors.
A few stores remained open, but most were selling glass pipes or other products that did not contain THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, said Allyson Griffith with the code compliance division of the city’s neighborhood and community services department.
Two stores received suspension notices after city teams found THC products on site, Griffith said.
The Joint at 2409 Pacific Avenue and The Herbal Gardens at 824 S. 28th St. received the notices. The Herbal Gardens’ owner has a state license to operate a recreational marijuana store and a medical endorsement to sell to patients tax-free, Griffith said, but the current location is too close to a parole office.
“Our compliance officers had a fairly lengthy conversation with him,” Griffith said, who said the owner was “frustrated.”
“I think the city generally found all of these proprietors to be very cooperative,” Griffith said.
Kronic Connection is one of the stores that hopes to stay afloat by changing its offerings.
“I’m going to remain open as a pipe shop and I’m praying I can stay alive,” Wright said.
Others plan to close altogether. Old Towne Herbalist, at South Fourth Street and Tacoma Avenue South, served customers through Thursday night. By Friday, owner Robert Woodmark, 25, had cleared the shop of nearly all marijuana products, save a few jars of barbecue sauce and several containers of marijuana-infused lubricant.
Woodmark turned away a steady stream of patients, most of whom used a cane to amble up to the locked gate. Many called out the name of the shop’s dog, Charles Barkley, a French bulldog-Boston terrier mix.
“I’m very close with all of my patients,” said Woodmark, who had been in the medical marijuana industry for seven years. “For a lot of medical patients, this is a social opportunity.”
Several blocks south, Natural Care had emptied its display cases and unplugged its neon “open” sign.
Owner Justin Meyer, 36, said he now plans to sell remote-control helicopters and marijuana accessories, such as glassware.
“An older lady bought the last of the cough syrup” Thursday, Meyer said. “You can’t get that at a recreational store.”
Wright at Kronic Connection faulted the state for how it handled the alignment of the medical and recreational marijuana markets. He applied for a state license but is still waiting to find out if he received one of the 16 licenses allotted to Tacoma.
He isn’t optimistic.
In the meantime, he’s turning away patients who have become like family and grappling with downsizing his business.
“I had to let go of my staff,” he said of his seven employees.
As a collective, Wright saw on average 50 patients a day. His employees regularly helped customers, many of them low-income, beyond providing them products to ease their pain, said customer Leander Kennett.
Kennett visited Kronic Connection for chronic back pain and pain in his shoulders for close to a year. The Tacoma resident is in a wheelchair and lives in a nearby nursing home.
He stopped by the store Friday to buy his usual medicine.
“I knew ahead of time that things were going to change, but I didn’t know they were going to shut down,” Kennett said outside the store.
Seeing patients like Kennett leave empty-handed left Wright deflated Friday.
“Last night was like closing ‘Cheers.’ I have poured my life into this place,” he said. “I have created a gathering spot for patients.”
Griffith said the city code compliance division will continue to check on unlicensed stores if it receives complaints.