SEATTLE – The nation’s second legal recreational marijuana market is opening in Washington state next week, but it might not be what voters expected when they legalized the sale of heavily taxed pot a year and a half ago. Here are five things to know about challenges facing the industry:
FEW STORES: The state’s Liquor Control Board plans to issue up to 20 marijuana retail licenses on July 7, and stores can open the next day if they’re ready. It’s not clear how many that will be — the board says only one shop in Seattle is ready for final inspection. By contrast, sales began Jan. 1 in Colorado with 24 pot shops, mostly in Denver. Dozens of Washington cities have banned the shops.
LITTLE POT: The board was overwhelmed with nearly 7,000 pot-license applications. Reviewing them — conducting background checks, vetting financing, ensuring compliance with pot-tracking software — has been slow. Only 79 growers have been licensed. About 560,000 square feet is in production, but some growers don’t expect to harvest by early July. “Will there be shortages?” asks Randy Simmons, the board’s legal-pot project manager. “The answer to that is yes.”
NO EDIBLES: The board just announced that people who want to make pot-infused sodas, brownies or other treats must get approval for their products, and so far no one has. The board doesn’t want any gummy candies or anything that would appeal to children. The edible-makers also need to have their kitchens pass a state inspection. Two have been tested so far: One failed, with results pending on the other.
PUBLIC HEALTH: The measure voters passed in 2012 directs tax revenue to the state Health Department for public health programs. But tax revenue isn’t coming in yet, and with sales about to start, the department scraped together $400,000 for a new radio and online advertisement campaign urging parents to talk to their kids about marijuana and visit www.learnaboutmarijuanawa.org . Dr. Leslie Walker, of Seattle Children’s Hospital, wishes the state had started soon after the measure passed. Instead, she says, many young people have gotten the impression marijuana is legal and without risk. For them, it’s neither, she says. “We’re playing catch-up,” Walker says.
MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Lawmakers have fretted about how the state’s unregulated medical marijuana system will compete with the heavily taxed recreational market, but proposals to bring medical patients into the recreational fold failed in Olympia. Alison Holcomb, the Seattle lawyer who authored Washington’s legal pot law, worries that the slow roll-out of legal pot-shop and grow licenses will make it difficult to argue when lawmakers meet in January that the state is ready to tackle medical marijuana.