Wash. town opens first government-run marijuana store

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October 24, 2016
Denver, CO

The country's first government-run marijuana store is open for business in Washington state.

Under Washington's legal marijuana system — the first legal sales began July 8, 2014 — store licenses are handed out based on population and geography. By snagging one of Skamania County's two available licenses, North Bonneville ensures that government officials play a major role in marijuana sales, which they say will help them keep pot out of the hands of kids while benefiting the town's bottom line.

In an extensive Q&A posted on the town's website, town officials note their lagging economy, property values and sales tax collections. Stevens said the town also hopes to persuade marijuana growers and processors to buy or lease land in the town, bringing with them possibly dozens of jobs. North Bonneville is inside the Columbia River Gorge, nearly 50 miles east of Portland, Ore.

"The reality is that our property values are already at record lows. It's hard to imagine how being in the forefront of an emerging era with the increased tourist traffic, greater economic opportunities and a national media (presence) could lower property values any further," the town said. "The only way appears to be up."

Washington state only permits 334 licensed marijuana stores statewide, although far fewer have actually opened their doors. Colorado, in contrast, put no limit on the stores and already has about 336 of them, although all are privately owned. The entire industry, of course, remains in violation of federal law, although the Justice Department has said it will generally leave alone marijuana stores that are doing a good job keeping pot away from kids and profits out of the hands of drug cartels.

By running the store, the town gets to keep any profits. Under state law, marijuana tax revenues go back to Washington state. In Colorado, cities and towns can collect their own sales taxes on pot purchases made at retail stores.

Stevens said he expects other Washington cities and towns will seek their own marijuana stores once they see the success North Bonneville expects. He said the fact that national news outlets are covering the story indicates the town is on the right track.

"I think this store is one more facet of the total package we have to offer," he said.

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