The Columbian / Associated Press

Sticky’s Pot Shop forced to close its doors

Alex Merrell, a manager at Sticky's Pot Shop in Vancouver, organizes merchandise Aug. 1. The store has been closed. (Columbian files)

After months of legal conflict, a Hazel Dell marijuana shop that opened in defiance of Clark County’s moratorium against recreational pot businesses is finally closed.

Sticky’s Pot Shop at 9411 N.E. Highway 99 was forced to close its doors Friday after Superior Court Judge Daniel Stahnke denied owner John Larson’s request for stayed enforcement. Larson also is on the hook for about $100,000 in fines he’s been accruing since this spring.

Stahnke ruled late last month that Larson must close the pot shop, which was operating in violation of a county moratorium against marijuana sales. Larson asked that the county withhold action until he appealed the decision.

But Stahnke did not grant that request, and code enforcement officers with support from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office were able to tell staff to close the store for business. Code Enforcement Manager Paul Scarpelli said staff “complied willingly … with closing their doors.”

“Store staff was very courteous and professional,” Scarpelli said Monday. “They posted someone at the door so no more customers could enter. All current customers completed their business and left.”

Scarpelli added that while the store is closed, Larson can come and go to “handle their merchandise as they see fit,” but cannot sell it to the public.

“This was made very clear, and the owner understands this,” he said. “The shop is being monitored for compliance.”

Larson meanwhile maintained, as he has all year, that his store operated legally and that Washington courts will ultimately allow him to continue selling marijuana in Hazel Dell. He plans to appeal Stahnke’s latest decision and is optimistic that he’ll be open for business soon.

“We believe the county’s actions show a gross disregard for the right to due process and the authority of the Court of Appeals to hear the case,” Larson said. “Once the Court of Appeals grants the stay of enforcement, we will reopen for business immediately.”

Larson opened the store in December under the name Emerald Enterprises LLC. Clark County accused the Yakima man of seeking a certificate of occupancy for his business by applying as a general retailer selling gifts and glassware — which would have been legal under Clark County code.

A Clark County Hearings Examiner found Larson lied about what he planned to use his building permit for, and found him in violation of Clark County’s moratorium on recreational marijuana businesses. The Hearings Examiner ordered a fine of $500 per day of violations, and Larson was in business for nearly 200 days since.

Larson also is fighting the county’s moratorium — but that too seems like a battle he’s unlikely to win. The Clark County Commission in 2013 approved a moratorium on marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas. The current council has shown no interest in overturning that moratorium.

“Although it’s rough to see a business close, it’s better to be consistent just like we would be with any other business and any other code,” said County Council Chair Marc Boldt, no party preference. “I’m glad it’s done.”

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.