First Washington had too little recreational cannabis to support the retail market debut last July, and now the Evergreen State has too much product. The fall 2014 harvest has come in, resulting in a surplus of cannabis that the small number of recreational shops are unable to sell. So what's the deal? How did Washington go from being the Papa Bear to the Mama Bear, and is there a "juuuuuuust right" Baby Bear scenario that can fix this?
Well, the problems are simple but numerous:
- There are 270 licensed growers in the state vs. 85 open recreational shops, which means there's an obvious disparity between the amount of product available and the number of stores who can move that product.
- Retail taxes are still too high for many consumers' tastes, and they're content to keep frequenting medical marijuana dispensaries or turn to black market sales because both alternatives are significantly cheaper than the current legal recreational cannabis prices.
- Speaking of medical marijuana, the state's unregulated medical marijuana system is muddying up the waters, as there are way more dispensaries in the state than recreational shops. Dispensaries have lower prices because they're not subject to the high taxes that recreational shops are, so lower costs combined with more convenient locations offer a more appealing experience for buyers than seeking out one of the few rec shops open in their area and plunking down over $90 for a joint and an eighth.
Washington already has the unfortunate distinction of operating under the worst recreational cannabis law, and now its surplus issues are shining an even brighter spotlight on the state's problematic program. So what's the solution?
City Attorney Pete Holmes, who supported I-502 and was among the first in line to legally purchase recreational cannabis when the market debuted last summer, has drafted a proposal to expand Washington's current cannabis law. His new policy includes allowing home grows, creating vapor lounges, and transitioning unregulated medical marijuana dispensaries into the new recreational system. According to Holmes, "[Unregulated medical marijuana dispensaries are] creating a public safety nightmare, frankly, and they're undercutting the 502 stores because they're unregulated and untaxed."
The good news is that policymakers have acknowledged that Washington's marijuana programs are a bit of a mess. Unfortunately, the struggle lies in seeing what actions they take to improve the situation, as we've been hearing a lot of talk with little action as of yet. In the meantime, perhaps the cannabis surplus can be used to bring the city back down from its near heart attack-inducing levels following the insane NFL NFC Championship game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers. Seattle fans in Washington might enjoy something with a relaxing effect to tide them over until the big game kicks off February 1, while Packers fans who live here may opt for something to combat depression...