5 Years of Legal Weed

Our first neighborhood cannabis store opened 5 years ago this week, and Sea Change was the fifth to open in the state. The neighborhood, in this case Jefferson County (population 31,000), soon had seven stores, the max allowed under state rules.

The state of Washington has the number of retail stores capped at about 520, about 500 are operating. That’s about the number to be found in Denver and Portland, ignoring the rest of the shops in Oregon and Colorado. There are well over 1100 growers in the state, which are not capped.

No one in the state of Washington would say that any problems have developed as a result of legalizing and regulating cannabis. While there have been a few smash and grab breakins of storefronts, the takes have been minimal, and the crimes were videotaped. Robbing a pot store is generally a poor idea as they contain little of value to a black market.

ID checking is always done at the stores, no matter what you look like. A few places have been caught selling to minors, but very few take any chances of getting caught doing this as the repercussions are very high. Surveys (treat with care) show that teen use of marijuana is down since legalization.

All facilities have extensive security protection and monitoring, and that effort seems to keep criminal activity to almost zero. Crime does not go up when a licensed facility starts operating.

Annual sales of cannabis products are now leveling off at about 1.5 billion dollars. Prices that consumers see bounce around a bit depending on the season and other factors that are still mysterious. In Washington, expect to see grams at about $10 fairly consistently. This is lower than Colorado, California, and Nevada, but higher than Oregon, even though WA has higher taxes.

The Liquor and Cannabis Board has had the most difficulty adapting to the new environment. Their operation of the seed-to-sale tracking system has been miserable, to say the least. Even as I write this the system has a problem which makes moving products around difficult. A lot of money has been wasted on the system, and there is little to show for it. Meanwhile, using it costs the licensees money and delivers little to them. It’s becoming apparent over the years and in other states that while these systems sound like they would work and prevent leakage into or from the unlicensed market, they don’t.

The LCB has come under fire for over-aggressive enforcement of piss-ant rules and inflexibility when interpreting the laws. It’s the belief of most licensees, legislators, and citizens that the LCB has a role in assisting, not just impeding, the development of sane regulations and an efficient supply chain for the market they regulate. Lately I’ve seen signs they might be adjusting their attitude a bit, but geez, after five years you’d think they could figure this stuff out.

Every state experiences the bans and moratoriums imposed by some of their local jurisdictions, but in Washington the number of those has dwindled over the five years to just a few recalcitrant entities. Zoning issues still come up frequently, usually of the NIMBY flavor. If not resolved, new businesses have plenty of options to avoid those places where they aren’t wanted.

Washington has done a good, almost perfect, job of keeping big investors and businesses out of the state. This is considered a good thing in the cannabis world, almost an “equity” feature. Indeed, many of the start-from-nothing entrepreneurs are now growing and doing quite well. When someone complains about “the big boys” around here they might well be referring to born and bred Washington farmers.

All in all, Washington has done quite well with cannabis so far. I personally wish that the lawmaking and regulatory environment weren’t so gummed up so things could move faster, but that will likely remain a wish.

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