Small Harvest

Washington's medical-marijuana industry isn't as big as you think.

With dozens of medical-marijuana dispensaries proliferating all around town, authorizing doctors openly advertising their services, and a newly opened cannabis farmers market, it often seems as if the local medical-pot business is going gangbusters. But according to the first nationwide methodical analysis of the industry, released just last week, Washington has a long way to go to catch up to the market's true heavy hitters: California and Colorado. See Change Strategy, the firm that released the report, says its data is based on 300 interviews with industry figures in the 15 states, plus the District of Columbia, where medical marijuana is legal. Its finding that the medical-marijuana market nationwide would reach $1.7 billion in sales this year made The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, and a host of other national publications. See Change head Kris Lotlikar declined to provide Seattle Weekly with market figures for each state, though he says he's "getting a lot of pressure" to do so from reporters. So far, Lotlikar's firm has only released an executive summary to the public, and is selling the more detailed information. Yet the summary does give this key figure: California and Colorado together represent 92 percent of the market, with California by far the bigger player. Doing a little math, that means the other 14 jurisdictions, including this state, are splitting $104 million in revenue. Divided equally, that would be about $7 million each. The distance between that significant figure and the massive industry in California is evident simply by walking down a street in Seattle versus one in, say, Los Angeles—or Venice, Calif., where The New Yorker's Susan Orlean visited recently. In an entertaining post about her trip, she writes that "every other storefront is a doctor's office—walk-ins welcome." Those offices, of course, are handing out marijuana authorizations. She continues: "Part of what makes the whole thing so funny is the absolute ease with which anyone, for any reason, can get a prescription. You almost expect the doctors in their open-air beach offices to be wearing Mad Hatter costumes." That is exactly why our state legislators are now debating what restrictions should be placed on doctors who authorize medical marijuana. Recently a House committee, voting on a sweeping bill that would regulate the industry, approved a stipulation that would prevent health-care providers from operating businesses solely for the purpose of providing medical-marijuana authorizations. Naturally, medical-marijuana advocates hate the provision. But others see it as a way of keeping the local industry—and Mad Hatter doctors—in check.

 
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