Politics & Government

Partners, locations changing fast ahead of marijuana store licensing

Luck wasn’t on Don Muridan’s side. As it turned out, he didn’t need it.

His goal: capture two state licenses to convert his two Tacoma medical marijuana stores to recreational sales.

His results: 20th place and 21st place in the lottery for just eight Tacoma slots.

Muridan didn’t have a winning ticket, but he had an understanding of the rules and a head start. Medical marijuana may skirt state law and lack regulation, but Rainier Wellness Center is no fly-by-night operation. Muridan, 48, who started using medical marijuana during treatment for prostate cancer, had spent three years and more than $75,000 on building improvements, he said.

Not everyone in front of him in line could say the same.

“These guys didn’t have anything, any infrastructure, no systems in place,” he said.

Looking to make a deal, he contacted the applicants with better lottery numbers. He also grabbed maps of where stores are allowed, blew them up, laminated them, and set off in his car to find winning applicants who might be in the wrong places.

Now he says both of his retail stores appear headed toward being among the state’s first licensed marijuana sellers to open, on July 1 or soon after.

The map is changing fast, as applicants work out deals with property owners and each other.

Muridan’s search found him two very different partners.

At his 3111 S. Pine St. location in central Tacoma, he’s working with a former Best Buy employee from the Miami area, Alexander Rodriguez. At his 112 S. 24th Ave. location near downtown, a tech-oriented group led by Evan Marques.

“I met with a lot of people, and I really liked Alex Rodriguez and I liked Evan and his group,” Muridan said. “I struck a deal that was beneficial to both parties.”

Marques’ group may not have had infrastructure, but it had business resumés: current and former Microsoft and Amazon employees, a real estate broker and a lawyer, Marques, who provided the Tacoma connection.

Together with David Donovick, Conor Curtis, Nathan Bowling, Cameron Deak and Daniel Kiepfer, Marques formed Urban Bud LLC. The mostly King County group also placed as highly as No. 30 in Seattle’s lottery for 21 stores, in line to benefit if just a few applicants ahead are disqualified.

“I’m fascinated to see what happens when it becomes legal because, it’s interesting — none of my business partners are users or consumers of this product,” Marques said.

All the more reason they can benefit from Muridan’s experience and what Marques said was the impressive professionalism of Rainier Wellness.

“I think it makes the transition into this industry a little easier,” Marques said.

Rainier Wellness has heavy security that Muridan is bulking up in preparation for a possible license, roughly doubling the number of cameras at one store.

Now business partners are going through checks of their backgrounds and financial sources. And they are developing even newer relationships, with pot growers and processors. The supply looks to be tight at first.

Switching to the existing Rainier stores, Rodriguez left behind a South 12th Street location he had entered in the lottery. Marques’ group had applied under an address in the Eastside’s Lincoln neighborhood, but couldn’t come to terms with the landlord.

A couple of blocks in the Lincoln neighborhood appeared to be poised to become weed central after lottery results were announced May 1.

A few members of the Lincoln High School graduating class even started organizing a protest effort as part of a class project.

Mikala Davis, 18, said they aren’t trying to stop marijuana legalization, just make sure stores aren’t clustered in one place.

“What kind of message does that send if our students and our children are seeing marijuana stores and the kind of people they attract?” Davis said.

But all four applicants who ranked highly using addresses in the Lincoln area have since moved their plans elsewhere.

Malkit Singh of Federal Way, the owner of a Puyallup gas station, is now seeking to sell marijuana at 4002 S. 12th St.

The other two switched to the Sixth Avenue commercial corridor.

Damien McDivitt of Tacoma has applied to operate at 3005 Sixth Ave. Leroy “Duane” Dunn of Renton is targeting 2702 Sixth Ave., a building that once housed the Chopstix piano bar.

Dunn, a database architect at Boeing, is partnering with a medical marijuana seller, Matt Freet of Tacoma’s Ancient Medicine. He’s hoping to open by Aug. 1.

“My family was not able to get involved with the gold rush,” Dunn said, “and I didn’t have the opportunity to have the collateral and the money to get into the dot-com world.” Marijuana is his “opportunity to get into the next gold rush, so to speak.”

Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826