Public scrutiny comes with pot-industry territory

Mom and pop pot dealers should prepare for the bright light of public scrutiny as they enter the marijuana mainstream.

There will be no hiding as the state lets cities and counties know who wants to grow, process and open a cannabis corner market in their communities and where exactly they want to do it.

Soon these wannabe legal dope dealers will be the talk of many a town and maybe the target of a few not-so-mellow neighbors, who don’t want the businesses near their homes.

The state Liquor Control Board has received more than 3,700 license applications and has begun informing cities and counties which ones are on their turf. For each application, cities and counties have 20 days to express support, opposition or no position.

“If the local authority objects, we review with an additional layer of scrutiny,” liquor board spokesman Brian Smith said. “Typically, we are looking for whether the local authority made a case that providing a license to the applicant, or at that location, is a threat to public safety. The burden is on the local authority to make its case.”

State law does not tell elected leaders what to do before responding. It does not, for example, require public hearings but it doesn’t dissuade them, either.

That’s where the city of Lynnwood may be blazing a trail for others.

Late last month, the mayor’s office received word from the state of an application for a license to grow and process marijuana on a stamp of commercial land on 208th Street SW abutting homes and the Interurban Trail.

City leaders sprang into action and scheduled a community meeting to discuss and dissect this application.

They mailed notices to residents living in the vicinity with the date, time, place and reason for the meeting. They attached the liquor board’s official letter containing names, phone numbers and birth dates of the applicants. They posted it all online as well.

City leaders no doubt wanted to be certain residents knew exactly who had designs on growing pot on this particular corner.

Not surprisingly, this didn’t sit well with Mark Greenshields of Auricag Inc., who applied for the license for a 30,000-square-foot indoor growing operation. Greenshields said he understood the purpose of the meeting but worried the spread of personal information could create professional and personal problems for he and his partners.

He had another reason for his frustration — by the time the notices went out, he’d already abandoned plans to open in Lynnwood and is looking to operate in unincorporated Snohomish County near Woodinville.

That made the need for a meeting moot in his mind, but Assistant City Administrator Art Ceniza insisted early Monday it would not be canceled. (Tuesday morning it was canceled, with no reason given.)

Departing Councilwoman Kerri Lonergan-Dreke supported getting residents together regardless of the status of the application because legal pot businesses are coming to town and most residents don’t seem to realize it.

The city needs to be proactive, she said. She hopes public sessions are held on every application, even the ones that don’t materialize, she said.

“I think that’s a good strategy to take,” she said. “It’s good for folks to start to understand how the state has responded to the initiative.”

And a reminder for those looking to grow and sell pot in this state: Public attention, unwanted or not, is one of the costs of doing business.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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