Washington bar owner allowing marijuana use faces crackdown

SEATTLE — Jeff Call knew he was pushing the envelope when he started letting people use marijuana at his rum-and-pizza joint in Tacoma.

But he didn't quite know the extent of what he was in for: the governor's office demanding state regulators do something about it, local authorities revoking his business license, and his insurance company dropping his liability policy — developments that threaten to sink his 3-year-old establishment even as he vows to fight them. "The screws are coming down from all over," says Call, owner of Stonegate Pizza.

"But we're open. Everything is still the same."

Washington and Colorado last fall became the first states to legalize marijuana for adults older than 21. Both ban the public use of marijuana — which typically would include bars and restaurants — and most bars are steering clear of allowing pot use at least until officials come up with rules for the new weed industry.

But the Stonegate and a few others have been testing the boundaries in hopes of drumming up business and making a political statement.

Call, 48, allows a medical marijuana dispensary to use space on the second floor of his brick, two-story establishment as a "vape bar," where people can use devices that "vaporize" marijuana, or heat it without burning it. That's a way to get around the state smoking ban.

The upstairs bar is set up as a private club, with a nominal fee for membership — an attempt to get around the ban on public use of pot.

Medical marijuana patients can buy hits of potent pot oil, but everyone else has to bring their own pot and then rent a vaporizer — an effort to evade the ban on nonlicensed marijuana sales to recreational users.

Call filed an appeal Thursday, a day before he had been ordered to close his doors. He can continue to operate during the appeal.

His attorneys plan to challenge authorities for relying on local laws barred by the state and federal Controlled Substances Acts. They say officials cannot ban activity that is legal under state law, as they argue Call's business is.

Call also is in the market for new liability insurance, as his will be canceled as of May 14.


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