By Marcy Stamper

Four of the aspirants to sell marijuana in Okanogan County have passed the state’s pre-screening process, whittling down the initial list of applicants for a retail license in the county by seven.

Since Okanogan County was allotted five stores based on population, local applicants did not have to go through the lottery conducted by the Washington State Liquor Control Board at the end of April.

Two of the remaining contenders in the county, Austin Lott and Hamsterdam, want to open stores in Winthrop. Lott is hoping to open a store in Horizon Flats, but last month a closely divided Winthrop town council denied Lott’s appeal of the town planner’s interpretation that zoning for the area does not allow a retail operation. Lott said after the vote that he was researching his legal options.

James Stroud, of Bellingham, has applied for a license under the trade name Hamsterdam for one of the units in the building on Riverside Avenue that also houses Mountain Paws and Fharnham Bronze. The building was once the Winthrop liquor store.

The other two applicants are for stores in Okanogan and in Omak. Omak changed its zoning ordinance last year to prohibit any land use that would violate federal, state or local laws, effectively banning any marijuana business in the city limits, but the Liquor Control Board intends to issue licenses to qualified applicants regardless of local bans.

Okanogan County was one of only 47 jurisdictions—both counties and cities—in the state that did not require a lottery to narrow down the field, since there were still 1,174 applicants who had passed the pre-screening for the 75 jurisdictions where a lottery was necessary. A consultant for the Liquor Board determined that 334 stores would be an adequate number statewide.

Roughly 25 percent of retail applicants did not return the required documents requested by the Liquor Control Board in the pre-qualifying process and between 20 and 50 percent of the returned packets were incomplete, disqualifying those applicants from the lottery, according to the board. Before the pre-screening eliminated unqualified applicants, there were 2,170 hoping for a retail license.

The other counties that did not require lotteries were Grant, Island, Klickitat, Lewis, Pend Oreille, Skamania and Stevens. Cities without lotteries included Omak, Wenatchee, Ephrata and Walla Walla, according to the Liquor Control Board.

The Liquor Board expects to begin issuing retail licenses the first week in July, starting with the most populous areas of the state. They will issue licenses for jurisdictions that have enacted bans or moratoriums after they have finished processing the other licenses.

Decisions about all 79 applications for marijuana producers in the county (16 in the Methow Valley) and 45 applications for processors (11 in the Methow) are still pending, although the Liquor Board has issued more than 50 licenses for growers and processors in other parts of the state.