Washington’s recreational marijuana sales passed the $1.1 billion mark with sales taxes reaching $410 million in 2016 – the first time the state has reached these totals for pot in a single calendar year.
The figures, which include receipts from growers, processors and retailers, show a 1,900-percent growth in above-board sales since pot became legal in 2012. In 2015, the legal pot industry recorded $486 million in total sales.
But some marijuana advocates believe Washington could be doing even better. Philip Dawdy, a Seattle-based cannabis lobbyist, said a few things have curtailed marijuana sales in Washington including product quality that lags behind the illicit market and the fact that the state moved slowly to get retail regulations in order.
As a result, Colorado — which legalized pot in the same year as Washington — has nearly two million fewer people but twice as many retail outlets.
"I think the numbers don't look so impressive when you back out the producer and processor sales and just look at retail sales," he said. "We do about $1.9 million a day in sales and Colorado does about $4 million a day in sales."
More insidious, he said, is that the legal pot in Washington is average at best.
“There’s a lot of cannabis on the market that is just very average, just Budweiser quality,” he said. “That’s an inducement to people to stay on the illicit market.”
Still, he said, he’s pleased to see the numbers increase and he thinks the state is about three years away from catching Colorado – that is if either state is allowed to retain its newest agricultural industry.
Pot still remains illegal at the federal level. When President-elect Donald Trump won the election and then nominated anti-marijuana advocate Sen. Jeff Sessions for U.S. Attorney General, the industry took notice. And that, as least as it comes to Washington, might have chilled growth in the retail market, Dawdy said.
“I can tell you that there are multiple licenses that have been issued for Seattle that have not opened up and that have been shopped around to be sold to people, and there were two or three deals that were about ready to go down right about the time of the election,” he said, “and the pause button got hit on all of those.”
Currently, eight states and the District of Columbia have legal, recreational marijuana – four of those approved legalization measures last year.
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