David Morgan isn’t going to wait any longer for Pasco to allow him to operate his recreational marijuana store.
Morgan opened Lucky Leaf Saturday morning at 3411 N. Capitol Ave., despite Pasco’s ban on marijuana-related businesses that has been in place since July 2014.
Morgan pointed to a new state law that went into effect July 1 allowing local governments that allow marijuana sales to collect some of the 37-percent sales tax as a reason to open the store.
The lack of local tax revenue was cited by the city council when it placed a temporary moratorium on marijuana sales in September 2013 and later when it passed the permanent ban.
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“We’re hoping that they’ll change their zoning and grant us a license so we can help the city get their share of tax revenue,” Morgan said.
City Manager Dave Zabell does not buy the argument about helping the city with taxes, since Morgan first applied for a marijuana retailer license in late 2013, long before the legislature changed the law to allow cities to share in marijuana revenue.
The city will consider fines or other enforcement actions against the store, which applied for a business license with the city and was rejected, Zabell said.
“We will be taking the next step like we would do for any other business operating without a license in the city,” Zabell said.
Morgan had not heard from anyone with the city Saturday afternoon. He had a “soft opening,” not even making an official announcement on Lucky Leaf’s Facebook page until late Saturday afternoon, with a post inviting people to “swing on by” after the Tri-City Water Follies wrap up.
“It’s a legal business in Washington state,” he said. “It should be the same here as it is in Seattle.”
No one was lined up when Lucky Leaf opened at 10 a.m., like they were when the Mid-Columbia’s first marijuana store opened in Prosser in July 2014.
The cash-only Lucky Leaf had a steady stream of customers through the day. The slow pace was fine for Morgan, who was still learning the computer system.
“I kind of wanted to get a feel for this, and make sure we are doing everything right,” he said.
Some customers signed a petition asking the city to lift its ban on marijuana businesses. All were required to have their identification scanned as they entered to prove they are at least 21 and show it again if they bought anything.
“You can look 80 years old, and you’re still going to get carded twice,” said Sergio DeLeon, one of six full-time employees at the store.
Prices average around $10 a gram, with better-quality items more expensive. They plan to sell marijuana edibles in the future, Morgan said.
Morgan’s store near the King City Truck Stop got its license July 9 from what’s now the state Liquor and Cannabis Board after trying two other locations in Pasco. He initially considered a store on Road 68, but changed to a downtown site after that was found to be too close to a video arcade. His Lewis Street location got closer to a license, but was rejected after the city notified the state that it was within 1,000 feet of Peanuts Park, a plaza near the Pasco Farmer’s Market.
“We really just want to make this work,” said Michael McNeeley, a cousin of Morgan’s wife, Shilo, and employee at the store. “We want to provide marijuana in a safe, controlled environment and provide tax revenue for the area.”
One 27-year-old Pasco woman, who asked that her name not be used, said it was a relief for Pasco to finally get a marijuana store nearly three years after Washington voters passed Initiative 502, legalizing the product.
“It’s such a miracle drug, it works for everything,” she said. “You don’t have to have colds and everything else. To live in a state where you can take that for what ails you, that’s awesome.”
State law doesn’t allow cities like Pasco that ban marijuana sales to collect taxes from its sale, but neither Morgan or Zabell knew whether Pasco would get tax money from a business operating in spite of the ban.
“That would be a great question to ask a legislator,” Zabell said.