The Columbian / Associated Press

Defiant shopkeeper begs county council to lift marijuana moritorium

John Larson, owner of Sticky's Pot Shop, displays a variety of strains of marijuana at his shop Thursday afternoon, Jan. 7, 2016. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian)

The owner of a marijuana shop violating Clark County’s moratorium on pot sales made an impassioned plea Tuesday for the county council to repeal the ban.

John Larson, owner of Sticky’s Pot Shop on 9411 N.E. Highway 99, and his son, Jeremy Larson, told the Clark County council during its regular Tuesday meeting that they believe the ban violates state law and must be repealed immediately.

“My staff and I have worked incredibly hard and sweated to build this business,” John Larson said. “I have waited patiently for the county to reconsider the ordinance it passed banning marijuana business. I would wait no longer.”

John Larson, who is licensed to sell marijuana by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, was granted a county permit to move into the space under the name Emerald Enterprises. His application said the store would sell novelties and collectibles.

Clark County officials accused John Larson of deceiving the county, but Larson has denied that. The store passed all fire and safety inspections, and received about $2,000 in application fee waivers under Clark County’s fee waiver program, which eliminates application and traffic impact fees for job-building businesses in unincorporated Clark County.

Larson also said the county is squandering potential tax revenue by not allowing recreational marijuana stores in unincorporated Clark County.

“(The county) would also stand to receive a substantial fund every year in tax revenue … that could be put to good use in this county including enforcement against illegal drug activities and substance abuse treatment,” he said.

Clark County missed out on an estimated $496,000 in revenue from the state’s disbursement of marijuana excise tax, the Liquor and Cannabis Board said last year. That money instead was divided between Vancouver and Battle Ground, the only cities in Clark County that have allowed pot shops to open their doors.

Jeremy Larson, meanwhile, called the ordinance “plainly inconsistent” with state law.

Superior Court judges across the state have found that local jurisdictions’ bans do not violate state laws. Larson sued Clark County in 2014, claiming that the county’s moratorium on marijuana retailers violated Initiative 502, the voter-approved measure legalizing recreational marijuana production and sales. The judge in that case held that I-502 does not override local governments’ authority to ban marijuana retailers, and three other Superior Court judges have offered similar rulings in four other cases. Larson is appealing his case.

Enforcement efforts

County code enforcement ordered Sticky’s Pot Shop on Jan. 11 to stop selling marijuana or face a $250 fine each day. There’s likely nothing more that code enforcement can do unless the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office or Acting County Manager Mark McCauley weighs in, code enforcement manager Paul Scarpelli said.

A successful marijuana shop, however, could likely absorb a $250 daily fine — $7,500 in a 30-day month — as a cost of doing business. Main Street Marijuana on Main Street in downtown Vancouver, the top store in Clark County, sold $1,336,604 in product and paid $494,593 in excise tax in December. But even a smaller store, The Herbery’s location on St. Johns Road, sold $254,663.07 of product and paid $94,225 in excise tax in December.

Larson’s store has not been so lucrative yet. In the two weeks after its quiet opening on Dec. 18, Sticky’s brought in $1,864 in revenue, $640 of which went to the state in excise taxes, according to the Liquor and Cannabis Board. January sales data are not yet available for Sticky’s. John Larson did not respond to requests Tuesday asking how the fine might affect the business. He said late last week, however, that stories in The Columbian and on local television stations have significantly boosted his business.