- Associated Press - Friday, April 25, 2014

SEATTLE (AP) - Andrew Elliott is hoping to score one of the golden tickets of Washington’s legal marijuana industry: a license to sell pot, granted in part on a series of high-tech lotteries held this week.

He almost didn’t get a shot. Just days before the lotteries began, the state’s Liquor Control Board informed him he had been disqualified because his proposed pot shop in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood was too close to an area frequented by children - a game arcade which, it turns out, doesn’t exist.

Thanks to quick work by his lawyer, Stephanie Boehl, the board agreed at the last minute to put Elliott back in the Seattle lottery. But some others disqualified haven’t been so lucky.

Interviews with applicants and their attorneys detail a number of reported problems, from one rejection based on a typo to potential issues with the state’s software to technicalities that torpedoed what might otherwise have been strong applications.

Most troubling, they say, is that some people weren’t informed until this week, after the lotteries had started, that they’d been disqualified, leaving them no meaningful way to appeal what might have been mistaken decisions by the board.

A Cowlitz County Superior Court judge on Thursday halted the lottery for marijuana retail licenses in Longview until a hearing set for May 7. An applicant there, attorney Liz Hallock, sought the order, arguing that the board’s reason for disqualifying one of her applications was vague.

In an interview Friday, Alan Rathbun, the board’s licensing director, and Becky Smith, its marijuana program manager, said they were confident the board had treated all applicants fairly, and that they had even erred on the side of including people in the lottery.

Three people, including Elliott, who quickly pointed out errors in the board’s decision to reject them were reinstated in time for the lottery, they noted. They said the board so far has received fewer than 10 requests for an appeal of lottery rejections.

Rathbun said there would be an appeal process, but he and Smith acknowledged they don’t know what the remedy would be for applicants who win their appeal. By that point, the lottery will have taken place without them.

“We couldn’t delay the lottery to wait for all potential appeals to come through,” Rathbun said.

The board is pushing to have pot shops open by early summer. It is initially limiting the number of stores statewide to 334, but it received more than 2,100 applications for licenses. It hired Washington State University to hold lotteries this week, with randomly generated numbers assigned to applicants, for 78 cities and counties where there were more applicants than there will be licenses awarded.

Those who score a low number in the lottery get first crack at being approved for a license.

Beginning in late February, applicants had a month to submit five pieces of information, including their criminal history and a lease or signed “letter of intent” from a landlord indicating that they had a valid location for a pot shop, to be cleared for the lottery.

For weeks, the board has warned of a high rate of failure.

Many of those who completed their applications still faced disqualification if their proposed location was within 1,000 feet of a school, day care, game arcade or other venue frequented by children, or if their criminal history was problematic.

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