The Columbian / Associated Press

Vancouver to add 3 more pot shops

New Vansterdam retail marijuana shop assistant Jacy Reichlin helps customer Matt Ellis on Monday in Vancouver. The Vancouver City Council on Monday voted to increase the number of retail pot shops in the city from six to nine. (Photos by Natalie Behring/The Columbian)

Vancouver soon will have three more shops selling bags of legal bud.

On Monday, the Vancouver City Council voted 5-1 in favor of increasing the number of pot shops in city limits from six stores to nine. Mayor Tim Leavitt was absent. Councilor Bill Turlay cast the lone vote against the measure, saying, “This is a personal issue here. I am opposed to drug and alcohol abuse.”

No one from the audience spoke at Monday’s public hearing.

The city council could have authorized as many as 12 stores, which is the new cap the state Liquor and Cannabis Board set on Jan. 6 while issuing new limits on the number of stores each jurisdiction will be allowed. However, the council decided to go with the city Planning Commission’s recommendation of nine stores.

Councilor Jack Burkman called the move to nine stores a “reasonable intermediary step.”

Two retailers have been waiting on the sidelines for the change. High 5 Cannabis received a state license for a store in Orchards at 6511 N.E. 137th Ave., and Aardvark Reeferology is under state review for a proposed store license at 8312 Mill Plain Blvd. A third store, Black Key Holdings, recently has applied for a state license for a store at 16219 S.E. 12th St., according to city staff.

Meanwhile, some owners of existing pot shops in Vancouver have urged the council to keep the limit to six stores because their sales have dropped since Oregon legalized recreational pot Oct. 1, and they believe more stores would spread all pot retailers too thin.

However, council members have made it clear that they don’t want to interfere with the free market or attempt to protect a business’s profits.

The city of Vancouver has six retail stores sited in the west, central and east parts of town. In 2013, the state approved a total of 15 retail pot licenses for all of Clark County and its cities, but aside from Vancouver, Battle Ground is the only city that has a pot shop.

The Planning Commission recommended by a 5-2 vote that the city increase its number of recreational pot shops from six to nine for a variety of reasons, including that the geographic dispersion of the retailers is uneven, and adding more stores could alleviate the parking problems in Uptown Village due to the presence of Main Street Marijuana. The commissioners said they hadn’t heard of any negative consequences of the city’s retail pot shops and didn’t feel that allowing a few more would harm the community, according to minutes of their Nov. 10 meeting.

On Dec. 16, state Liquor and Cannabis Board staff recommended boosting the number of retail pot shops statewide from 334 stores to 556 stores, based on an analysis of the marijuana marketplace by research consultant BOTEC Analysis Corp. The move is meant to accommodate the state’s alignment of the medical marijuana market with the existing recreational market, with the expectation that medical pot users will be turning to retail pot shops for their marijuana supply.

In its Dec. 15 report, “Estimating the Size of the Medical Cannabis Market in Washington State,” BOTEC estimated the overall marijuana market value is $1.3 billion. Estimated at $480 million, medical marijuana has 37 percent of the market, state-licensed recreational stores, valued at $460 million, have 35 percent of the market, and the black market, valued at $390 million, has 28 percent of the market, according to a Liquor and Cannabis Board press release.

Vancouver will receive $790,500 in retail pot excise taxes for the state’s 2016 fiscal year.