Centralia’s second marijuana dispensary, Greens on Gold, has been given the green light to open after a seven-year struggle for owner Dick Watkins.
The City of Centralia has approved Watkins' business license application, which was submitted at the end of August but came under scrutiny over concerns about the location.
Watkins was originally granted a license to open a cannabis dispensary by the state in 2015 but has faced zoning issues when it came to actually opening the dispensary. Centralia has strictly limited where such businesses can be built since the legalization of recreational marijuana in 2012.
CORE Health, a mental health facility specializing in substance abuse treatment and homeless outreach, raised concerns about the dispensary’s proximity to its location.
Once the dispensary is open, the buildings on opposite sides of South Gold Street will be approximately 350 feet from one another.
CORE raised concerns because the services it provides mostly focus on drug rehabilitation programs and child care for those using its services.
In a Sept. 14 letter, CORE’s legal counsel wrote to the Centralia City Manager Rob Hill and City Attorney Shannon Murphy-Olson, the business explained that Greens on Gold was, “Less than 1,000 feet from our mental health, child care, homeless and chemical dependency services provider center.”
A 1,000-foot buffer is what state law requires to be between a cannabis dispensary and a variety of different institutions, including child care centers.
The main offices for CORE Health are located in Longview and it has been operating in Centralia since 2017. The health care provider moved from its original location at 1616 S. Gold St. to its current location at 1126 S. Gold St. in December 2020, according to previous reporting by The Chronicle.
CORE Health CEO Frank Morrison also provided The Chronicle with a copy of the business license he was granted on June 17, 2022, which designated CORE’s location in Centralia as a child care center for children ages 16-17.
Centralia Community Development Director Emil Pierson and Assistant Director Hillary Hoke responded to the legal counsel’s email explaining the city’s decision process for reviewing a dispensary’s business license request in a Sept. 19 email.
The approval process steps included ensuring the request complied with applicable state laws, which sets the buffer based on Washington State Department of Revenue (DOR) business license data.
“The City staff reviewed the following to ensure that the proposed retail marijuana business will meet requirements listed,” stated the Sept. 19 email. According to the information the city had provided by the DOR, the buffer requirements were satisfied, according to the city.
The Chronicle contacted the DOR, which explained that the Washington State Department Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) was responsible for ensuring the buffer was there and maintaining that list of business license data.
LBC Communications Director Brian Smith explained to The Chronicle what qualifies a business as a child care center for them.
“The child care center has to be registered with the Department of Children, Youth and Family Services (DCYF),” Smith said.
He added the LBC will provide additional comments once the licensing department gets back to him.
Employees from the CORE Health Centralia location appeared during the public comment period at last week’s city council meeting and made one final plea for the council to reconsider their issue of the dispensary being within 1,000 feet of where CORE Health is located.
“I worry about the wellbeing of our clients who are trying to stay away from substances and will now have this very triggering building so close to where they are coming to find help,” said CORE Health Office Manager Cate Owens at the meeting.
In a phone call with The Chronicle, Morrison explained his acceptance of the city’s decision. Despite being disappointed, he said he wants to continue focusing on the clients CORE Health serves.
“It would be nice if the state didn’t put cities and new business owners in precarious situations like this,” Morrison said.
While Morrison and his attorney had been exploring possible legal actions, they ultimately decided against them, with Morrison adding, “we’re gonna focus on the recovery (of CORE clients). We don’t have the funds to (take legal action). It’s not worth the time when they’ve already made the decision. We’re just going to have to adjust.”
The construction of Greens on Gold, located at 1039 S. Gold St., is still ongoing with no date set yet for the opening. CORE Health is still operating and located at 1126 S. Gold St.