A pot shop may be opening near West Richland. There’s little to stop it now

Nirvana Cannabis Co. may be getting closer to opening a retail outlet near West Richland after it was first proposed two years ago.
Nirvana Cannabis Co. may be getting closer to opening a retail outlet near West Richland after it was first proposed two years ago. File

The future home of a controversial cannabis shop is getting a facelift.

Workers are making visible progress in renovating the former house, where Spokane-based Nirvana Cannabis Co. plans to open its third legal marijuana retail shop. Its others are in the Spokane area and in East Wenatchee.

The work suggests Nirvana, also known as The Garden LLC, is progressing toward opening the shop it proposed about two years ago.

It would be the fourth legal cannabis retail shop in Benton County and the second in the Tri-City region after Finley’s Green2Go.

Nirvana officials have not returned phone and email inquiries concerning the status of the project or when the store might open. Employees at Nirvana’s two operating stores said they were unfamiliar with the plans and that company executives were unavailable.

Nirvana can’t open without final building approval from Benton County, which hasn’t happened.

In response to a Tri-City Herald inquiry Friday, Benton County issued a news release saying it was nearly done with the final inspection, pending more work on the parking lot and interior.

“Throughout the last two years, the county has continued to urge the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board to re-evaluate the license for the Nirvana Cannabis Company, as the county does not feel its location is appropriate,” the release said.

Nirvana Cannabis
Renovation work has resumed at 4950 Arena Road, the site of the proposed future home of Nirvana Cannabis Co. Wendy Culverwell Tri-City Herald

“The county understands the community’s frustration, and we assure you that we are continuing to do whatever we can to address the issue,” the release said.

Nirvana is pressing ahead.

Friday morning, a worker could be seen entering the future store at 4950 Arena Road. The surrounding property had been tidied up. About half the structure has new siding.

A portable toilet, ladders and trash bin were outside the building, suggesting more work is planned.

The site is in an unincorporated slice of Benton County surrounded by the city of West Richland.

West Richland Mayor Brent Gerry said the city is disappointed that it wasn’t asked its opinion, but resigned that there’s little it can do under the current rules.

West Richland police will likely respond to calls associated with the site, Gerry said, even though the city will receive none of the tax benefits.

“We’re kind of stuck with it the way (the law) is written,” he said. “The bottom line is it’s here. You have to deal with it.”

State Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, who has opposed the shop from the start, vowed to keep up the pressure in Olympia.

He’s had little success in recent sessions. For the past two years, the Democratically led House has ignored an emergency bill he introduced in that would have added preschools and parks to the list of facilities that trigger the state’s 1,000-foot buffer requirement.

Klipper pre-filed a similar bill this past December for the coming session. House Bill 1003 would address the siting of cannabis businesses in areas frequented by children.

Friday, Klippert said he’s keeping his focus on a drug he sees as dangerous.

“I will do everything I can to keep that from going forward,” he said.

Nirvana caught local officials by surprise in 2017 when it requested approval to move its retail license from Prosser to Arena Road.

The property is zoned commercial and in theory would provide Tri-City customers with an option to the current stores in Finley, Prosser and western Benton County.

It may have looked like a shrewd real estate move by Nirvana, but the proposal sets up a serious disconnect with surrounding land uses.

A quiet West Richland neighborhood faces the site to the north across Kennedy Road. There’s also a neighboring retail strip mall that includes a preschool. Temple Baptist Church occupies a large campus nearby.

School buses transport kids from a spot in front of the proposed cannabis shop, which raised the ire of area residents.

“There are kids all around this location,” one incredulous neighbor wrote to the director of the Liquor and Cannabis Board.

Arena Properties LLC paid about $512,500 for the site in late 2016.

State records indicate Arena Properties and Nirvana Cannabis have different chief executives. However, they share the same Spokane address.

Neighbors complained the state didn’t properly notify neighbors or the cities involved. They said rules prohibiting cannabis shops from operating within 1,000 feet of schools and other child-centric spots should rule it out.

Those residents persuaded the Benton County Commission to ban future cannabis retail businesses in September 2017 but the Liquor and Cannabis Board to date has not changed its view that Nirvana has met the legal requirements spelled out in state law.

The county ban didn’t affect Nirvana because it took effect after the business secured the license.

Washington voters legalized recreational cannabis with the passage of Initiative 502 in 2012.

Benton and Franklin voters rejected it by hefty margins, leading Franklin County and the cities of Kennewick, Pasco, Richland and West Richland to institute local bans and moratoriums.

Benton County did not adopt a ban, which left the door open to cannabis activity in unincorporated areas. It approved its own bans on retail as well as production and processing in 2017. Pre-existing businesses were not immediately affected.

Nirvana Cannabis at a glance

  • Feb. 25, 2017: Nirvana applies to Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board to transfer its Prosser license to 4950 Arena Road, citing a Richland, Wash. address.

  • March 2, 2017: Benton County notified.

  • March 3, 2017: Notice posted

  • March 21, 2017: Benton County files initial objection.

  • March 22, 2017: Benton County withdraws objection.

  • May 18, 2017: Transfer request approved.

  • June 28, 2017: State Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, files an emergency bill extending the 1,000-foot buffer requirement around cannabis shops to include all places where children congregate, including preschools and playgrounds. The Democratic majority ignored his bills.

  • Aug. 7: 2018: Benton County objects to license renewal.

  • Aug. 21, 2018: State denies Benton County non-renewal request.

  • Sept. 19, 2017: Benton County Commission approves ban on new legal cannabis stores

  • Oct. 12, 2018: State renews Nirvana license for Arena Road.
Wendy Culverwell writes about local government and politics, focusing on how those decisions affect your life. She also covers key business and economic development changes that shape our community. Her restaurant column and health inspection reports are reader favorites. She’s been a news reporter in Washington and Oregon for 25 years.