The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board released its new cap on marijuana retail licenses Wednesday and Bellevue will be allotted four additional licenses for stores. The city currently has three active marijuana retailers: Green-Theory on Main Street, The Novel Tree on 130th Ave. N.E. and BelMar on 116th Ave. N.E.
Bellevue’s fourth retail license was awarded to Greenside in 2014, but a location dispute with Green-Theory prevented it from opening on Main Street. It has not opened to date.
The increased allotments are the result of work by the Board, the state Department of Health and other agencies to roll existing purveyors of medical marijuana — alternatively called dispensaries, access points or “collective gardens,” as they’re known in state law — into the recreational retail system as directed by the “Cannabis Patient Protection Act” signed by Gov. Jay Inslee earlier this year.
“Our goal was clear: To ensure medical patients have access to the products they need,” Board Director Rick Garza said in a press release.
Under the Act, the Board is required to issue licenses in accordance with a three-tiered system that gives first priority to the owners or employees of collective gardens in operation prior to 2013 who also applied for retail licenses prior to July 2014. The Liquor and Cannabis Board opened the new round of applications Oct. 12 and, so far, 39 of the nearly 1,200 applicants are considered first priority candidates.
Medical marijuana professionals who did not apply for a retail license prior to mid-2014 are prioritized second. All others who applied for new retail licenses are prioritized third.
Statewide, the cap on marijuana retailers increased from 334 to 556.
To determine that figure, as well as how many licenses should be distributed where, the Board used the findings of a report, which sought to estimate the size of the state’s medical cannabis market in terms of dollar value. The report was released publicly Tuesday.
The researchers noted in the summary of that report that coming up with an accurate estimate was difficult due to factors such as the relatively unregulated nature of medical marijuana commerce, the possibility of underreported revenues and the number of dispensaries that have shut their doors since the Cannabis Patient Protection Act was signed into law.
However, the researchers were able to estimate the medical marijuana market’s value somewhere between $290 million to $690 million, with $480 million determined as the best estimate, based on a census of stores and voluntary survey of revenues.
King County was determined to contain the greatest share of the state market, producing 36 percent of state revenues from medical marijuana and containing 31 percent of verified dispensaries.
King County will nearly double its allowance of retail licenses, save for the four cities that have instituted bans or moratoriums on recreational marijuana. In nearby Sammamish, the City Council voted to prohibit marijuana enterprises in October 2014.
Additionally, four cities — Burien, Maple Valley, Mercer Island and Tukwila — have allotments for retail licenses but no operating retailers. Those cities will nevertheless double their allotment.