Legal weed got off to a rocky start in Washington, but that apparently hasn’t stopped legions of tokers from buying millions of dollars worth of product.
In the month since Washington’s first pot shops opened July 8, the industry has generated nearly $3.8 million in revenue, including about $1 million in taxes paid to the state. And that despite the fact that only 18 stores opened in July.
Another 22 businesses received retail marijuana licenses but were unable to open in time. Nearly 300 more licenses will be issued in coming months.
“It’s off to a healthy start, considering that the system isn’t fully up and running yet,” said Brian Smith, spokesman for the Washington Liquor Control Board, which regulates the cannabis industry.
Though there were few serious problems in the first days of legal pot, some stores ran out of product, leaving customers to wait days or weeks for a new supply.
That’s largely because the state didn’t give growers time to harvest a full crop. More weed has been coming into stores in recent weeks.
Voters legalized pot in Washington in the 2012 election, as did voters in Colorado. That state’s first shops opened Jan. 1 to banner headlines and few hiccups. During the first month of legal weed, stores in Colorado generated nearly $2 million in taxes.
The difference between the two states is even bigger than that, however, since Washington levies a much bigger tax than Colorado and has a bigger population. That means Washington should be earning more, not less.
The discrepancy could be due to a couple of factors. For one thing, higher taxes mean higher prices in Washington, and that could be driving away business. Or it could be that fewer stores have opened there than during the first month in Colorado.
Washington charges a three-tiered tax on the marijuana industry. A first tax, 25 percent, is levied on the sale of weed from the grower to the processor. Another 25 percent is charged on the sale between the processor and the retailer. And a final 25 percent tax is paid by the consumer. Together, these taxes increase the average price of pot by 44 percent.
In Colorado, by contrast, there’s just one tax of 25 percent. Critics in Washington have argued the burdensome tax there would drive away business.
It’s too early to tell if that’s true, but the signs so far are hopeful. As in Colorado, there have been no major snafus, no big crimes, no businesses failing in the first days.
State officials predict legal weed will generate $122 million during the next two-year budget cycle. But lawmakers aren’t counting on that revenue until next year.