Edgewood takes two-pronged approach to block marijuana shop

The City of Edgewood is preparing to appeal a retail marijuana license granted to a local business by the state Liquor Control Board.

The East Pierce County suburb is believed to be the first Washington city to attempt to overturn a retail license with the liquor board, board spokesman Mikhail Carpenter said. The city is the first in Pierce County — and likely the state — to request a judicial review since state Initiative 502 was approved by voters in 2012.

Edgewood wants a hearing to object to the location of Butts Tobacco, Inc., which currently operates as an electronic cigarette and vape shop at 3204 Meridian Ave. E. The state last month granted it a license to sell recreational marijuana.

But securing a state license doesn’t guarantee a retailer can operate within a city; businesses also must comply with local regulations.

Days before filing its petition for a hearing on Butts Tobacco’s license, the Edgewood City Council doubled down with its own regulations. The council unanimously passed zoning changes that prohibit all marijuana-related businesses from operating within city limits. That keeps Butts Tobacco from opening a pot shop under its new state license.

Why challenge the retail license when city code already blocks pot businesses?

“We just felt that they weren’t following their own regulations,” Edgewood City Manager Mark Bauer said of the liquor board. “And we wanted to know why.”

Edgewood’s petition, filed Friday in Pierce County Superior Court, asks the liquor board to deny the retail license or grant Edgewood a hearing to oppose the retailer’s proposed location, according to court documents. If judicial review is granted, a hearing will be held in Superior Court.

The petition states that Edgewood was wrongfully denied a hearing “to rebut the facts and conclusions reached by the (state) investigator,” who was designated to review the city’s opposition to the license.

Carpenter, the liquor board spokesman, said the agency thought a hearing was unnecessary because it had already vetted the city’s primary objections to the retail license.

The city objected on three grounds: Proximity to city-owned park property, proximity to a private school and violation of local regulations.

The city argues that the agency misinterpreted portions of the law by determining that Butts Tobacco was not located within 1,000 feet of a public park, court documents state. I-502 established a 1,000-foot buffer from parks, schools and other establishments frequently used by minors.

But Carpenter said the city property in question — located at 36th Street East and Meridian Avenue East — doesn’t constitute a public park because a bond measure to develop the land for park uses failed.

He added that the private school — Thirst for Learning, at 2908 Meridian — isn’t recognized by the Puyallup School District or the state’s list of approved private schools.

Finally, he said, the board doesn’t consider city bans or zoning restrictions grounds for denying marijuana licenses.

Bauer acknowledged that the 18-acre property intended for a park hasn’t been developed. But, he said, the land was purchased with park funds and will eventually be a “centerpiece” for recreation in the city.

The owner of Butts Tobacco, Inc., Jeanne Wood, said Monday that the future park is far from the definition outlined in I-502.

“It’s a big field,” she told The News Tribune.

As for her proposed pot shop, Wood said she can’t turn back now.

After “winning a golden ticket,” as she calls it, in the marijuana license lottery earlier this year, Wood spent about $30,000 to convert from a vape shop to a pot retailer. She worked hard to make the floorplan and security system comply with I-502, she said Monday.

“I’m following the law,” she told The News Tribune. “To move would cost me another $20,000.”

Legal or not, Enid Duncan said she’s concerned about the proposed pot retailer. Duncan owns Thirst for Learning, the private school mentioned in the city’s petition.

“A drug, is a drug, is a drug,” Duncan said Wednesday. “The children affected in these issues never seem to have a voice.”

Bauer said Edgewood’s marijuana policy protects the city and business owners from uncertain consequences that could result from a conflict with federal law. Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I narcotic by the federal government.

“The City Council has significant concerns about where the federal law is going to come down on this issue,” Bauer said, noting that Edgewood always could revisit its pot rules if the discrepancy between state and federal law is resolved.