The Columbian / Associated Press

Renegade cannabis store loses commercial building permit

Assistant manager Alex McIntosh helps a customer while working behind the counter at Sticky's Pot Shop in Vancouver last week. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian)

Sticky’s Pot Shop, a recreational marijuana store that opened in defiance of a county moratorium on marijuana businesses, has lost its commercial building permit after the Clark County Hearings Examiner found the store owner gave the county false information about what he planned to sell.

John Larson, owner of Sticky’s on 9411 N.E. Highway 99, opened the doors of his Hazel Dell shop in late December, prompting Clark County code enforcement to issued him a fine of $250 for each day the store continued to sell marijuana.

The Hearings Examiner heard Larson’s appeal of that decision on Thursday, and found Larson not only violated the county’s marijuana business moratorium, but also gave the county false information about what type of store he was opening, prompting the county to add to Larson’s fees and revoke his commercial business permit. Despite the order, the store remained open for business Tuesday — and Larson said he plans for it to stay that way.

“Here’s our game plan in a short sentence,” Larson said. “We’re open. We’re just going to work through the process and get things done.”

Larson, according to the Hearing Examiner’s final order, described the pot shop as a “general retail business” selling novelties, crafts, collectibles and antiques. Had Larson told the county they intended to sell retail marijuana, the application would have been denied, the order said.

“I do not recall a time when the county revoked a permit, based on the similar or same circumstances in this case,” said Community Development Director Marty Snell, who has worked at Clark County for a decade.

The Hearings Examiner, which issued its decision today according to county staff, ordered Larson to pay $1,500 up front to cover three days of violations during the appeal. Larson also faces $500 in fines — $250 per violation — each day it continues to operate in violation of the order.

Larson previously said he did not intentionally deceive the county when he applied as a general retailer.

Tuesday’s order is the latest in an ongoing saga between Larson and Clark County. In 2014, Larson sued Clark County in Cowlitz County Superior Court, claiming that the county’s moratorium on marijuana retailers violated Initiative 502, the voter-approved measure that legalized recreational marijuana production and sales in the state.

The judge in that case, however, concluded I-502 does not override local governments’ authority to ban marijuana retailers. Three other Superior Court judges in the state have offered similar rulings in four other cases.

However, Larson, whose case is currently in appellate court, continues to argue that the county’s moratorium is illegal.

“I think (county staff) are in a tough position, because they didn’t choose the policy, but they are in a position where they have to enforce the ordinance because it’s their job,” Larson said. “I understand and I want to make clear that the issue is not with county staff, the issue is with the illegal ordinance that violates my right to operate.”

Sticky’s sold about $24,550 in product in January, its first full month of business, according to the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board. Of that, about $9,090 went to state excise taxes. That more than doubled in February, as the store sold about $51,360 in product, about $19,000 of which went to taxes. There are six employees at the store, shop staff said last week.

Larson can still appeal the decision within 20 days, or reapply for a building permit for sale of non-marijuana products.