The Columbian / Associated Press

Court hears appeal by Sticky’s Pot Shop

Alex Merrell, a manager at Sticky's Pot Shop in Hazel Dell, organizes merchandise Monday. The shop's owner is fighting Clark County's moratorium on recreational marijuana sales. (Ariane Kunze/The Columbian)

The owner of a marijuana store operating in violation of a county moratorium argued his shop’s case before a Clark County Superior Court Judge on Monday.

John Larson, who opened Sticky’s Pot Shop at 9411 N.E. Highway 99 in Hazel Dell late last year, has been in the midst of an ongoing legal battle with Clark County to fight to keep his store open.

Larson is appealing a decision by a Clark County hearings examiner who rescinded his commercial building permit, saying Larson was violating the county’s moratorium on recreational marijuana sales and had obtained a license under the pretense of selling trinkets and decorative items.

Before Superior Court Judge Daniel Stahnke, Larson argued that the county’s moratorium, approved in 2014, is in “direct opposition of state statute” allowing marijuana sales. Larson has argued before that the county’s ordinance banning recreational marijuana sales is illegal.

“The county wants to be judge, jury and executioner with no regard to the appellants,” Larson said.

But Deputy Prosecutor Bill Richardson argued that it wasn’t up to Stahnke to determine whether the ordinance is legal, just whether the hearings examiner had made the correct decision in revoking Larson’s permit.

“We ask that you affirm that decision,” Richardson said.

If Stahnke rules that Larson must close his store, Larson will be on the hook for more than $75,000 in unpaid fees — $500 for each day he’s been in business since the county hearings examiner revoked his commercial building permit.

The county also will post a “Do Not Occupy” sign on the business and arrest anyone who removes or disobeys the sign, Code Enforcement Manager Paul Scarpelli said. The county also may lodge a lien against the property owner if Larson does not pay his fees, Scarpelli said.

Larson sued Clark County in Cowlitz County Superior Court in 2014, claiming the county’s moratorium on marijuana retailers violated Initiative 502, the voter-approved measure legalizing recreational marijuana production and sales.

The judge ruled in that case that I-502 does not override local governments’ ability to place moratoriums on marijuana retailers, as Clark County did in 2013. Larson is appealing that decision.

Three other Superior Court judges have offered similar pro-moratorium rulings in four other cases, and Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued a formal opinion asserting that local governments have that right.