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New Pot Report Details Year 1 In Washington

One year ago, a couple hundred people gathered outside Main Street Marijuana in downtown Vancouver, Washington to celebrate the opening of one of the city’s first retail marijuana stores.

“This is a great turning of a new chapter for the city of Vancouver,” said Mayor Tim Leavitt at the time to those assembled.

It’s been a year since Washington started its recreational marijuana industry. While there was no fanfare for the anniversary, the cannabis industry has made its mark across the state in the past year.

Sales of marijuana in the state exceeded $268 million dollars, according to data released Wednesday by the Washington State Liquor Control Board.

Sales of marijuana generated more than $67 million for the state in the form of taxes, according to the agency, which later this month is set to become the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Board.

During the early months of Washington’s retail market, most stores couldn’t find enough marijuana.

Some would open for a few days before needing to close again. Others couldn’t open at all.

“The shortages that we were experiencing in the beginning we thought would quickly be going away are still lagging,” Ramsey Hamide, general manager at Main Street Marijuana, told OPB back in September.

With such a shortage, the price marijuana growers could charge last summer and fall was about three times as much as it is today.

Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, said those issues are to be expected.

“In these early states that are blazing this trail, there will be a period of time where the market is extremely volatile and it will take time for it to sort itself out,” she said.

As supply has increased in Washington state, so has competition among cannabis growers.

During the last year, some growers said it’s getting harder to stay in business. Some say they’re just breaking even for the first time. Others aren’t sure they’ll be able to stay in business.

“Right now, you’d hear from a lot of producers and processors that they’d like to be able to get more for the sale of their product to the retailers,” said Brian Smith, a spokesperson with the Washington Liquor Control Board.

“Not everyone’s going to make it in this business," Smith added. "Many of the people that are growing and producing at some point may choose that it’s no longer for them and the market will sort of balance itself out.”

He said the state’s goal has been to keep prices competitive with the black market.

Last August, the average price for cannabis was $25.12 per gram, according to the state. Last month, the average price was $11.52.

“Clearly the winner in all this is the consumer,” Smith said.

Advocates of legal marijuana say the state’s retail industry and decriminalization of pot has been positive so far.

“At this point, I think we can say fairly safely the sky hasn’t fallen,” said Mark Cooke, campaign policy director for the ACLU of Washington. “Some of the doomsday scenarios of huge increases in DUI’s and youth marijuana use haven’t yet appeared.”

A report issued this week by the Drug Policy Institute, an advocacy group, found legalizing marijuana in Washington has saved law enforcement millions of dollars.

The report also found that low-level cannabis related offenses are down 98 percent for adults 21 years and older. And the institute’s report found pot related convictions are down 81 percent.

But there have been consequence as well.

Calls to the Washington Poison Center increased slightly during the first two quarters of 2015, compared to the same time during last year.

“The increase in call volume on marijuana cases may be due to increased education efforts of community resources available to the public,” said Dr. Alexander Garrard, clinical managing director of the center, in a report released Wednesday.

Most of the calls to the poison center were related to teens between 13 and 19 years old, but some were children as young as 1, according to the center’s data.

Drug related DUI arrests decreased in 2014, according to data from the Washington State Patrol. But the agency also said cannabis related DUIs are up.

“We’ve noted a slight increase in the number of impaired driving cases that are related to marijuana,” said Lt. Rob Sharpe, a commander with the agency’s impaired driving section. “They still account for a small number of the overall DUIs in the state.”

One of Washington’s next big tasks will be to regulate the state’s medical marijuana industry; something state lawmakers passed this session.

Looking to next year, the Cannabis Industry Associations West said there is momentum as more states — like Arizona, Nevada and California — consider ballot measures that would legalize marijuana.

“Bringing this market out of the criminal underground and putting it behind a counter is really the right way to go,” West said. “You’ll see that continue into 2016."

Copyright 2015 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Conrad Wilson is a reporter and producer covering criminal justice and legal affairs for OPB.
Kate Davidson is OPB’s business and economics reporter. Before moving to Oregon, she was a regular contributor to "Marketplace", a reporter at Michigan Radio focused on economic change in the industrial Midwest and a producer at NPR.