This year has seen a bumper crop for the weed industry in Washington. In 2014, the year we legalized, the whole cannabis industry made just under $50 million. In the first three months of 2016, sales across the state topped $54 million. That is a significant amount of doobies, y’all.
Where is all this revenue coming from?
One source could be a shift from booze to weed. While liquor retailers haven’t seen a drop in profits, weed sales have been outpacing liquor all year long, and so far the state has collected almost $70 million more in taxes from cannabis industries than from liquor sales.
I’m thrilled by the idea that weed is finally showing up as a legal contender to the booze industry. Alcohol is a notorious source of so many toxic elements in families and communities across this country; from addiction and health problems to overdoses and violence, alcohol’s legacy is written in stone. Not that I think we need to ban it, but its ubiquity in American society could be dialed back a notch or two and I wouldn’t mind at all. Weed’s reputation as a universal chill pill could be one resource needed to help generations of alcoholics break the cycle.
Another source of revenue is less a call for celebration. In July, the last of the state’s medical dispensaries were shut down. Perhaps as a result, third-quarter recreational weed sales skyrocketed, cruising from $200 million to nearly $300 million in just three months. This is putting a squeeze on some of the most vulnerable members of our community, and I think the state should look at ways to back off from wringing every last dollar out of patients already having to deal with the expensive labyrinth of the medical industry. Marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance by the federal government, and still not recognized by the FDA as anything but a noxious substance. Using these two arguments, insurance companies, which are regulated on the federal level, will not cover cannabis prescriptions. Perhaps doctors could provide patients with vouchers from the state along with their prescription to cover the tax on their purchases.
A third source of all these dolla dolla bills is people coming from out of state to partake, but we may see a dip in our statewide sales as the brand-new recreational market gets going in Oregon. Two of the top three retail outlets, Main Street Marijuana and New Vansterdam, are in Vancouver, Wash., just across the bridge from Portland, bringing in, respectively, more than $31 million and nearly $20 million for the year. I think it’s reasonable to expect a sharp drop in those numbers as the Ducks may decide to swim in their own pond.
If you’re curious, Uncle Ike’s is the most profitable store in Seattle, and #2 in the state, with a haul of over $28 million in 2016 so far. No other Seattle store even comes close.
CORRECTION In an early version of this story, we included a number representing the cumulative profit for Washington’s cannabis industry. That number represented sales only, not profits. We have removed the reference.