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Nation’s First Government-Run Cannabis Shop Opens in WA

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Nation’s First Government-Run Cannabis Shop Opens in WA

 Tim Dudley gives a tour of The Cannabis Corner. Steven Lane/The Columbian

On the banks of the Columbia River, about 45 minutes from Vancouver, Washington, a small community has changed the face of cannabis reform in America by opening the first government-run retail cannabis store. The store, Cannabis Corner, opened with fanfare last week when the local news media came out to film the mayor of North Bonneville becoming the shop’s first customer. Mayor Don Stevens purchased four one-gram packages of retail cannabis – a Nobama Diesel, Blue Magoo, One Love and Swift Creek Cinex.

“I haven’t worked my way through all four of them yet, I’ve only done the Blue Magoo and the Nobama so far and they’re both very good,” Stevens said in a phone interview Thursday. “Both very relaxing and good for evening relaxation.”

Cannabis Corner exists through an interesting dynamic that allows the community to control the direction of the operation as well as retain revenue generated by the store. In Washington state a business model, the Public Development Authority (PDA), can be created by municipalities such as cities. North Bonneville, a community that came to being in the mid-1970s in association with the construction of the Bonneville Dam, started talking about the possibility of opening a retail cannabis shop in September of 2013. That was the date when I-502 – the initiative that established adult-use cannabis in the state – went into effect. In order to roll out a system establishing adult-use cannabis stores throughout the state, Washington established a retail lottery, awarding individual counties with a number of licenses based on their population.  Skamania County, where North Bonneville is located, was awarded two licenses by the Liquor Control Board – the group charged with the task of implementing the new system.

“The county was going to get two licenses somewhere and because of the requirements of 1,000-foot buffers and all that kind of stuff we just assumed we were going to get at least one of those applicants in our city,” Stevens said.

To do it, the city council created a PDA and appointed five board members to run it.

“We sent them off to do their work,” Stevens explains. “They had to come up with a business plan and articles of incorporation to become a legitimate applicant for the license process through the Liquor Control Board. Then they were able to navigate through all that red tape and crazy stuff and they opened up just this last Saturday and are doing great business so far.”

When deciding to open a retail cannabis store, the city council weighed its options.

“When we started looking at it we thought well if we just wait and see who opens a store we might get a great business owner or we might get someone we’re not real happy with,” the mayor said.

Choosing to open the shop themselves, left the city with the freedom to shape the business the way they would like as well as with the option to disband the PDA in the case of trouble.

“We felt that really gave us a lot of control over how it was going to be handled in our community and that really appealed to us,” Stevens said.

Also appealing to the small community was the chance to retain some of the revenues generated through retail cannabis’ path to the consumer. In Washington, a 25 percent tax is placed on each of three stages: from grower to processor, processor to retailer and retailer to customers.

“They keep all that money. That all goes to Olympia, our state capitol, and they don’t return any of it to our cities and counties,” Stevens said, explaining that while the PDA cannot place money straight into the city’s general fund, it can act as a grant authority. “So the city is able to apply to them for monies for various health, public welfare and safety programs.”

The city council is planning to fix a small park with the revenue generated by Cannabis Corner and then host a celebration inviting community members and staff members from the store.

“We’re super excited,” Stevens said. “We really feel like we’re the only one in existence right now, but we think a lot of other cities are probably going to try and follow our lead and ultimately we really want to just see recreational cannabis nationwide and get onto bigger and better things. The War on Drugs has been an abject failure. The amount of money that’s wasted on an annual basis is in the billions if not trillions of dollars related to stupid busts for small amounts of recreational cannabis.”

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