Auburn’s first recreational marijuana shop, The Stash Box, readies to open

Without any inventory in the store, its nose is mostly woody. Still, James Blankenship beams, pointing to the wooden floors, and the massive slab of glossy wood that will serve as the front counter for The Stash Box, Auburn's first recreational marijuana retail shop.

Without any inventory in the store, its nose is mostly woody.

Still, James Blankenship beams, pointing to the wooden floors, and the massive slab of glossy wood that will serve as the front counter for The Stash Box, Auburn’s first recreational marijuana retail shop.

“The build-out for this took about two months,” said Blankenship, 31. “We started in September.”

On Oct. 30, when a Liquor Control Board inspection cleared the way for the official license, allowing the store to start acquiring inventory from a licensed Washington State marijuana processor, Blankenship’s dream took one more stride toward reality.

“We’re hoping to open up around Nov. 15,” said the Liberty High School graduate and recent Auburn resident.

Blankenship’s journey began last year when he applied for a marijuana retail license, hard on the heels of voters approval of I-502 in 2012.

“I just seized the opportunity to apply,” he said. “I knew that what I was doing [as a parts salesman] wasn’t making me happy. And I wanted something that would allow me to take care of my family.”

Blankenship deliberated what region to apply for when he filled out his request for the Washington State Liquor Control Board lottery.

“I just put in one application; I didn’t try to stack the deck like other people,” he said. “I looked all around from Tacoma all the way to Tukwila.”

But familiarity with Auburn and a good deal on his current space decided him.

“The lottery was in May, and I had given up hope,” he said. “Then I got the word that I won, and I was excited.”

Potential investors from as far away as California contacted Blankenship immediately after he won.

“I wanted to keep it local,” he said.

He settled on enlisting the financial aid of friends from the Bonney Lake and Auburn areas to get the Stash Box up and running. Before they could officially begin work as The Stash Box, LLC., however, the state demanded extensive background checks on him and on the other three members of the corporation.

“We had to have background checks and a complete driving and traffic history, even,” he said. “And lots of financial paperwork. It was very intrusive.”

Having passed that first hurdle without a hitch, Blankenship and company smacked up against Auburn’s moratorium on marijuana businesses, which the City Council had approved in September of 2013.

“It was beyond frustration at first,” he said. “The City had the moratorium, and we didn’t know what to do. But I knew the store had to be here in Auburn.”

Blankenship said he then asked for the help of advisors from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which fights for the legalization and acceptance of marijuana nationwide.

“I started holding my own meetings at the public library and went to all the council meetings,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure everybody knew I didn’t have anything to hide.”

In September of 2014, the City decided to let the one-year moratorium expire, thus clearing the way for work to began on The Stash Box.

“We want it to be like a cigar or tobacco shop, with a sense of the lifestyle involved,” he said. “We want it to be a cool place to be at, where customers will want to come by, and come back, just to see what we have.

“We aren’t here to push this on anyone,” he said. “We want to help push the black market out of Auburn.”

So far, Blankenship says, the reaction from his neighbors and from city residents to the shop’s location at 3108 A St. S.E. Suite F, has been positive.

“I’ve really only had good reception from people, so far,” he said. “I want to thank the council and mayor for all the work they did. I’m really happy to be Auburn.

“The biggest concern has been about the edibles,” he continued. “The packaging can’t look anything like candy or something that would appeal to kids. Even something named ‘cookies and cream’ can’t be named that because that would appeal to children.”

Store security is a common topic.

“This place is actually probably as secure as most banks,” he said. “We have cameras that are recording 24/7, and we have to keep copies for 90 days. And we have logs for anybody that comes and goes.”

Blankenship said he’ll employ about eight people, full time and part time.

“I’m really happy to be here in Auburn,” he said. “I want to be a positive impact, not a negative one.”