Ocean Shores resident Jon Martin hasn’t always dreamed of opening up a pot store, but when Washingtonians voted to legalize marijuana, he started making plans for a new business. And at this point, he’s one of the few in the region to apply for a retail license to sell marijuana.
He doesn’t have any experience in the marijuana business, but he’s hoping his experience selling liquor will help.
Jon Martin and his wife Kim Martin have owned and operated Martin Bruni Liquor, formerly Ocean Shores’ state-run liquor store, for about a year.
“I have no idea what selling marijuana will be like, but in my mind it kind of fits,” Jon Martin said. “We came to this decision that if we didn’t apply, we’d be kicking ourselves.”
But the couple nearly didn’t apply for a license after reading the daunting, 43-page document outlining state rules for marijuana businesses.
The rules dictate who can apply for licenses — Washington residents 21 and older who haven’t been convicted of a felony in the past decade — as well as security measures and locations. Marijuana businesses can’t be located within 1,000 feet of a school, playground, recreation center, child care center, public park, transit center, library or arcade.
The state Liquor Control Board will also regulate the number of marijuana stores in each county. Grays Harbor County will be allowed six stores: one in Aberdeen, one in Hoquiam, one in Ocean Shores and three in other cities or unincorporated parts of the county.
So far there have only been four retail applications, including Jon Martin. An application for a store in an outlying area of Montesano is no longer under consideration, as the owner no longer wishes to own a marijuana business. Another applicant, Leann Pugsley, has applied for two retail licenses: one on Wishkah Street in Aberdeen and one on Simpson Avenue in Hoquiam.
Pugsley declined comment to The Daily World for this story, but testified Wednesday night at an Aberdeen City Council hearing on the new marijuana law. She wanted to find out more about the zoning prospects and concurred with another speaker who wanted to expand zoning options, particularly for retail sale.
She has applied for a retail license to sell recreational marijuana in Aberdeen with a tentative address of 1022 E. Wishkah St., Suite B. The area is designated for commercial use, near two fast food restaurants.
The Martins would also have to divide their business into two separate storefronts: one for marijuana, one for liquor. State rules don’t allow any other products to be sold at a business that sells marijuana and related paraphernalia. The liquor store has two entrances, so dividing it up should be easy, Jon Martin said.
The existing liquor store is large — Jon Martin claims it’s the biggest on the Harbor. So once it’s divided, the liquor store should still be relatively large, with the marijuana store being considerably smaller.
“My understanding of the law is that you have to keep it in completely separate businesses, so that’s why we’ve called it Ocean Shores Hemp,” Jon Martin said. “It’s a really lame name, we’ll probably do a different name if we get the licence. But I didn’t realize until I was filling out the application that we needed a name already. But everyone else is is being really creative.”
But even with all the regulations, Jon Martin calls the marijuana business a low-risk investment. He said they paid about $80,000 for the rights to the liquor store, but a marijuana retail permit will only cost $1,000 per year. The state also collects a 17 percent tax on every bottle of liquor sold, not including the sales tax paid by the customer.
“So the costs of going into the marijuana business are completely different,” Jon Martin said. “And if it doesn’t work out, if it doesn’t make sense, we don’t have to do it.”
“And the thing about marijuana, there’s not going to be a grocery store, there’s not going to be a Walmart selling,” he added. “So from a competitive advantage standpoint, this might be a better business than liquor.”
While the Martins are going into the marijuana business with no experience, Jon Martin said he’s confident that they can learn the ins and outs of the business quickly. He said they didn’t know much about the liquor business before opening the store, but he and his wife cultivated relationships with distributors.
The store now offers a wide selection of whiskey, cognac, vodka, tequila, wine and microbrew beers — including six beers on tap to fill growlers.
“We want to have people not have to drive to Olympia to get their liquor,” Jon Martin said. “And we try to offer it at competitive prices.”
Jon Martin said he hasn’t yet yet started cultivating relationships with growers and processors, and the state is still in the process of licensing those businesses. And until he can talk to other businesses, he won’t be sure which marijuana varieties and products he can offer.
But whatever the store sells, Jon Martin is sure it will be popular with tourists. In the summer, a large portion of his liquor store clientele is tourists — people from Seattle who don’t mind dropping a lot of money on alcohol. For most of the year, the Martins cater to locals and have developed a loyal customer base.
“The entire Ocean Shores in changing,” Jon Martin said. “You have the locals, and they’re who we cater to mostly. But then you have the tourists coming in blowing, not even looking at prices for the things they’re picking up. And that should carry over to the marijuana business.”