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First pot shop in St. Helens opens doors

Hundreds of customers within days of opening, city floats ordinance to tax recreational sales

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Miss Burns, a recreational and medicinal marijuana retail shop at 365 Columbia Blvd., recently opened its doors as the first store of its kind in St. Helens. While the St. Helens City Council has implemented several local fees on marijuana retails shops, the council will also refer to voters to determine if the products should be taxed an additional amount.On a Monday morning in St. Helens at Miss Burns, the first recreational and medical marijuana retail shop in the city, two customers casually peruse the selection of products while chatting with store employees.

Inside the shop, the freshly painted pale green walls with white accents and bright lights give the store a lively vibe. Electronic music pumps through a speaker on the wall behind the counter while a customer asks about which products and which potencies are best for pain relief. Leaning over a glass display case full of edible candies and topped with clear jars that hold varieties of marijuana strains, an employee points to different items and talks about what products he might like.

The shop had its grand opening Thursday, July 14. By Monday, 417 customers had come through the store, with roughly half holding medical marijuana cards, said Tatiana Kovolava, one of the shop’s managers. Co-owner John Alden said nearly 60 percent of customers have been returning customers, which he sees as a positive for his new business.

“To have these people come back in such a short amount of time means we’re doing something right,” Alden said.

Opening the shop has been a nearly yearlong process for Alden and his business partner, Larry Vandolah, a St. Helens resident. Alden said he’s appreciative of the city’s openness and willingness to navigate an industry that’s ever-evolving.

“There was a lot red tape, but there’s also no barometer to measure by in this industry, so I do understand,” Alden said of the process. “There was a lot of red tape, but we just had to work our way through it.”

While business may be thriving for the newly opened shop, the St. Helens City Council is looking at how to gain from the marijuana retail industry by putting out a ballot measure proposal in November asking voters to implement an additional tax on marijuana sales in the city.

During a St. Helens City Council meeting Wednesday, July 20, the council unanimously approved an ordinance that would ask voters in November to establish a sales tax on recreational pot. By state law, municipalities can impose as much as a 3 percent tax on retail marijuana sales provided they receive voter approval.

The Columbia County Board of Commissioners also voted on a similar ordinance for unincorporated areas of the county earlier this week.

St. Helens City Administrator John Walsh explained that the city doesn’t want to put a specific tax rate on the ballot vote, but prefers to keep the language less restrictive. If the state were to increase the tax rate, the city would have the flexibility to do so as well, he said.

In addition to obtaining state certification from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to sell marijuana products, St. Helens also requires retailers to obtain a series of business licenses, including a marijuana-related business license, payment of a $2,500 business application fee, and sign an agreement to pay a 7 percent community impact fee directly to the city based on sales each quarter.

Alden said he has agreed to the terms and fees that the city has put in place, in addition to the 25 percent state tax, and has tried to hire employees who live in St. Helens and Scappoose as part of his business model to help the local economy, he said. ``

“We just wanted to do everything right,” Alden said. “It’s a whole new industry. There’s a lot of work to be done, but I think the state is doing to a great job and the city is doing a great job.”