Washington: State Faces Serious Marijuana Shortage As Shops Prepare To Open
By Steve Elliott
It's been almost a year and a half since Washington state voters approved Initiative 502, the limited marijuana legalization measure, in 2012. But there still isn't a single state-licensed cannabis store open in the state -- and once the shops finally open, presumably next week, Washington could then face a marijuana shortage.
What's wrong with this picture? How did Colorado get so much more right in implementing legalization than did the weed-friendly Evergreen State? Well, Colorado -- unlike Washington -- built its recreational marijuana infrastructure on the already existing medical marijuana system, rather than foolishly opting, as did Washington, to build an entirely new system from the ground up.
Wait a minute, you may be saying. That's just crazy. They had, in place, a system of retailing marijuana -- and proprietors experienced in doing so -- but they are completely eliminating that system and turning the business over to a new set of retailers? Yes, you're getting the idea -- and that has resulted in a bureaucratic nightmare, reports Jordan Larson at Vice.
Producers, processors and retailers have had trouble getting the necessary licenses and space to retail, warehouse, and grow cannabis.
The Washington State Liquor Control Board, which was put in charge of the marijuana business in Washington under I-502, plans to issue between 15 and 20 retail licenses on July 7. Stores will be allowed to open on Tuesday, July 8, if they are ready, but it's unclear how many stores will be.
Out of 2,600 people who applied for growing licenses last fall, just 79 have been approved, and many of them aren't ready to sell, since growing marijuana requires several months of growing time.
Analytical 360, one of just two labs in Washington that is certified to test cannabis samples (which is required for state-licensed pot shops) has only received samples from two licensed 502 growers, with a third supposedly planning to bring in samples this week.
Likely making the coming shortage worse is the fact that Washington has strictly limited marijuana production, so much that even state officials admit they might be able to serve on 25 percent of the market, conceding three out of four sales to the black market. The WSLCB has capped legal grow space in the state at 2 million square feet. (Colorado, meanwhile, rakes in millions in taxes.)
Medical marijuana patients probably won't be as impacted by the upcoming shortage; they'll still be able to buy from dispensaries -- for now. That could all change next January when the Washington Legislature convenes again.
Last February, the Washington House passed HB 2149, which would have essentially eliminated medical marijuana. The bill mandated the shuttering of all medical marijuana dispensaries by May 1, 2015, and completely eliminated patient home grows by 2020. The law failed by a gnat's whisker to clear the Washington Senate before the end of the legislative session, but you can bet the guys in Olympia will be taking another crack at medical marijuana next session.
Much of the zeal to shut down medical marijuana in Washington is due to the fact that state regulators fear their overpriced (projections are $20 to $25 a gram), over-taxed (25 percent at each stage of the three-stage cultivation/processing/retail process), pesticide-laden weed (more than 200 pesticides are approved for use on state-licensed pot) won't be able to compete with the good stuff sold in medical dispensaries.
If all that expensive, scarce, chemically treated pot has organically grown, connoisseur grade cannabis competing with it, patients will of course choose the healthier option. After all, many of them have limited incomes, not to mention compromised immune systems or liver function, which means 200 pesticides is a spectacularly bad idea.
"What the future holds for medical marijuana dispensaries, I don't know," claimed Brian Smith, knowing even as he said it that the Legislature plans to eliminate them next year. "Under the law, they're not supposed to exist," he said smugly.
Graphic: Medical Jane