The semi-sleepy burg of Buckley might suffer from a too-quiet downtown, but the community remains a destination for other reasons – most notably, it is home to a National Guard armory and Rainier School.
Now, it also is among just a handful of towns where marijuana fans can flock to purchase their drug of choice, whether it be Pineapple Express, Lemon Skunk, Big Bud or any other item off the recreational menu.
With last week’s soft opening of Mr. Bills of Buckley, the town of slightly more than 4,000 folks is the only Pierce County community – other than Tacoma – where marijuana can legally be purchased. Smokers cannot buy legal weed in Pierce County’s second-largest city, Lakewood, or No. 3 Puyallup.
Likewise, Buckley’s nearest neighbors have put the kibosh on anyone attempting to ply the marijuana trade made legal via passage of Initiative 502. Just to the north in Enumclaw, the Planning Commission and City Council have recognized that marijuana exists but used zoning codes to prevent the growing, processing or selling of the plant. To the west in Bonney Lake, city leaders maintain a prohibition on any phase of the marijuana trade.
Even Buckley isn’t 100 percent on board, maintaining a ban on medicinal marijuana until governmental entities higher up the chain pull all the rules and regulations into alignment.
A long road to opening day
Doug West, the general manager at Mr. Bills of Buckley, has traveled similar turf before. A veteran of the gaming industry, he was around to help wind through the myriad regulations that came with the advent of legalized gambling in the state of Washington; subsequent to that, he managed nontribal casinos in the region.
He sees definite parallels to the two efforts – people’s desire to gamble and passage of I-502 that made smoking marijuana legal for those 21 and older in the Evergreen State.
West was up front with the city of Buckley, attending City Council meetings on a regular basis for the past four months and encouraging city officials to check out the security measures in place. The end result is a shop that fills space adjacent to a gas station/mini-mart, directly in front of Buckley’s only grocery store.
West said work crews started building interior walls in early May with the hope of opening shortly after the Fourth of July holiday.
The goal, he said, was to build space where “employee security is the No. 1 priority.”
Goal is to be a quiet neighbor
Mr. Bills of Buckley has no neon, no flashy signs advertising the product contained within its walls. The exterior might be considered rather nondescript, simply stating in black-and-white lettering that marijuana is sold and warning of a state law that prohibits opening packages on the premises.
Once through the front door, visitors find themselves in a small lobby that gives no indication of the goods found behind a second door. The lobby serves only for staff to check identification. Without proper ID, customers are turned away, just like any other business governed by the state’s Liquor Control Board.
Once inside, customers find counters filled with everything needed for the smoking of marijuana – from small, inexpensive pipes, to more expensive, hand-crafted devices. A small section of the store contains the product, supplied by Green Labs, a producer/processor in South Bend, Wash.
Marijuana is sold in two quantities at Mr. Bills, 2 gram and 3.5 gram packages, and presently comes in 18 varieties. Dan Farrell, one of the “budtenders” at Mr. Bills and one of nine employees, explains the differences and how each might be used, depending on a customers’ desires.
Prices are higher that in the illegal trade, coming in at $24 a gram.
Cashiers are behind bars, a security measure. An added security step, West points out, is the steel wall installed between Mr. Bills and the neighboring store. There also are security cameras in abundance.
Buckley Mayor Pat Johnson was on hand to help with the ceremonial opening of Mr. Bills. She praised West and his effort to keep the city fully informed about the aim of the new business in town.
Now, it appears Mr. Bills may not be the only player in town. Rumors have swirled that a second marijuana retailer is set to open its doors within a month or so at a location further west on SR 410.