When Ocean City resident Wendy Fort imagines her dream job, she envisions running a small, tidy country store located near the beach. She pictures her customers as vacationers, passing by on their way to nearby RV parks or the Quinault Rainforest.
To a large extent, the store Fort pictures follows the tried-and-true model found often in small, coastal towns. But the product she hopes to sell is less traditional.
Fort hopes to be one of Grays Harbor County’s marijuana retail license recipients. And as the state Liquor Control Board narrows down the field of applicants, she’s one step closer to having her dream job. She found out Thursday that her application will take first priority in the county’s at-large application pool.
“We saw that we were number one on the list, and it was the most exciting thing,” Fort said. “Our dreams are really coming true.”
Fort, a disabled Navy veteran, was diagnosed with cancer after serving in Iraq and still suffers from debilitating migraines that prevent her from working a traditional desk job. A marijuana store could be a means of supporting her family, and she hopes her background will help the business.
“I figured being a female disabled veteran and a mother opening a store will take away some of the stigma,” Fort said. “There’s no need to have a stigma about people’s use, recreationally or medically.”
She plans to call the store “Pakalolo” — the Hawaiian word for pot. Fort and her husband, Wayne Fort, served in Hawaii for seven years.
Grays Harbor County will be allowed six recreational marijuana stores — one in Aberdeen, one in Hoquiam, one in Ocean Shores and three in the remaining areas of the county — according to rules outlined by the Liquor Control Board. But the board received more applications than there are available stores, so applicants’ priorities were determined through a lottery.
The top-priority applicants haven’t yet received licenses, but their applications will be considered first. If their applications are found lacking, the permits will be denied and the board will consider second-priority applicants.
The past few months have been nerve-racking, Fort said. She and her husband, Wayne, filled out their license application last year, and have been waiting for results ever since. But the strict regulations and drawn-out process might be worth the wait, she said.
“I’m hoping that this turns out as amazing as Colorado, but I think it will be even better,” Fort said. “There are more regulations, and I think we’re doing it the right way. I’m hoping that we can be the role models for everyone of how to do it right.”
The Forts see the lottery results as a go-ahead to start working on their business. They plan to use an existing building on their property, already zoned for commercial use, as the store. In recent months, the couple held off on making any improvements to the facility.
“Our plans have been kind-of on hold because you don’t want to invest $40,000 on a building that you may not have a use for,” Fort said.
The liquor control board has already started processing the applications and will likely begin issuing licenses by the first week of July, according to a press release.
As residents of unincorporated Grays Harbor County, the couple will bypass some of the challenges associated with applying for pot businesses in local cities. The City of Hoquiam, for example, still hasn’t approved permanent regulations for marijuana businesses and several members of the city council support an outright ban.
Ocean Shores officials have also been considering regulations that would prevent pot businesses from opening within 1,000 feet of the beach — effectively prohibiting any marijuana stores in the downtown area. State regulations mandate that marijuana business may not be located within 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds, recreation centers, childcare centers, public parks, public transit centers, libraries or game arcades.
“Because there’s all the mess in Ocean Shores and Hoquiam, I’m hoping that we’ll be the first store to open,” Fort said. “We think we could serve people from both of those areas.”
North Coast News Editor Angelo Bruscas contributed to this story.
Grays Harbor County at large:
1) Pakalolo - 2742 State Route 109, Ocean City
2) The 3-M’s of Grays Harbor - 98 Schouweiler Rd., Elma
3) Washington Coast Marketing - 2294 State Route 109, Hoquiam
4) Melinda Marie Weber - 2613 SR 109, Ocean City
5) Tyroda - 2294 State Route 109, Ocean Shores
5) Pugsley’s - 1628 State Route 105, Grayland
6) Always Herbal - 5673 State Route 12, Elma
1) Cannabis 21 - 809 W Cushing St., Aberdeen
2) Pugsley’s - 2003 Westport Highway, Aberdeen
1) Zia Recreational - 2815 Simpson Ave., Hoquiam
2) Happy Cheema -1733 Riverside Ave., Hoquiam
1) Green Outfitters - 662 Ocean Shores Blvd., Ocean Shores
2) Ocean Shores Hemp - 682 Ocean Shores Blvd., Ocean Shores
3) Coastal Reef - 682 Ocean Shores Blvd., Ocean Shores