Recreational marijuana was legalized in Washington nearly four years ago. Two years ago, the state began issuing retail licenses for it on a regular basis. There are now 311 retailers operating statewide. San Juan County voted for legalization by the highest margin of any county in the state. Why, then, do we not have a single marijuana retailer in Friday Harbor?
Once there was a great deal of interest in opening a dispensary in Friday Harbor. The Journal reported in May of 2014 that thirteen applicants had competed for the single license initially allotted to the island, which was eventually awarded to James Lawrence. Four months later, Lawrence cited the permitting process as the reason why he had been unable to open a store yet. In May 2015, the license application for his proposed location at 779 Mullis Street was denied. There is no record of that decision having been appealed.
A check of the state Liquor & Cannabis Board website as of October 25 shows six pending marijuana retail licenses and one active license in Friday Harbor. The pending licenses appear to still include that issued to Mr. Lawrence. The sole active license is held by Bud Hut, which also holds licenses in Camano Island, Lyle, and Everett, and is currently operating retail stores in all of these locations—except for Friday Harbor.
How did the place that led the rest of the state in changing the law wind up being the last to benefit from that change in spite of obvious demand? What went wrong? It’s no longer a question of supply. State records indicate that nearly seventy tons of usable marijuana has been produced in Washington since the beginning of the year. Token Herb on Orcas, which delayed opening until it could ensure a steady supply of product, has long been open and is doing well. Nor is it a question of bureaucracy. More than three hundred businesses have shown themselves able to negotiate the process successfully. And in any case, at least one license for Friday Harbor already exists. Why isn’t it being used?