Snohomish County nips new pot shops in the bud — for now

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MILL CREEK, Wash.-- "We don't want to be known as a place to get marijuana," says Diane Symms.

She stands outside Lombardi's Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar on the busy Bothell-Everett Highway. She's owned the local chain for decades and has lived just as long in Snohomish County.

Symms is spearheading efforts here to put more space between marijuana shops. She's happy the Snohomish County Council has put an emergency six-month ban on new pot shops.

"The clustering is the big problem for us," she says, "clustering all these businesses together."

Two doors down from her Mill Creek location, there's a proposal for a new pot shop. It's across the street from an existing pot shop. And two businesses down the other direction, she says, there's a pending permit for a tattoo shop to become yet a third pot shop.

She says she has nothing against marijuana. In fact, she says, she voted for legalizing it. Her concern is the influx of pot shops being too  much, too fast.

Symms shows off her newly renovated family restaurant with double-sided fireplace and bar with four Italian wines on tap. Symms says as cities in the area started putting caps on the number of weed stores, it's rapidly pushed them into unincorporated areas like hers.

"We need smart growth, with community input," says Symms.

Recreational weed retailers agree the growth has been intense since Washington voters passed Initiative 502 in 2012. Snohomish County officials say 20 weed stores have popped up in unincorporated areas in the county since legalization.

"I guess it's supply and demand," says Zeb Shirley, a worker and spokesperson for the Bud Hut, a giant store parked right along Highway 99 on the southern outskirts of Everett.

The owner of Bud Hut, Elizabeth, tells Q13 News that she thinks they're the largest weed retailer in the county, netting a million dollars in profit every month. A temporary freeze on competition would suit them just fine.

"It's great for us," says Shirley. "We're here and we're established. More business for us."

For new weed shops,  Symms says she likes the idea of putting a half mile between stores. That's in addition to the state-mandated restrictions that pot shops be placed away from things such as schools, day cares and playgrounds. What Symms says is most important is community input.

"I don't think of [what we're doing] as negative. I think of this as citizen involvement creating the communities that they want."

Citizens will get a chance to give some input on new zoning regulations at a meeting scheduled for the morning of August 10. The zoning rules proposed by Snohomish County are similar to ones already in place for rural parts of King and Pierce counties.