Washington state's recreational pot dispensaries will receive their first licenses this week to sell a legal product that's less accessible than black market marijuana. When Colorado began selling pot in January, it had to deal with high prices and fears of shortages, but business is still doing well. Washington, on the other hand, has specific issues. As The New York Times reports:
- The weed isn't where the smokers are: Only 55 percent of Washington voters approved legal marijuana, and most of them are in western Washington near Seattle. But the Seattle area only has one dispensary. Meanwhile, Vancouver, which is smaller and much more conservative, might have three. Washington is only issuing 24 of 334 available licenses. It all came down to who could get approved for a permit. Mikhail Carpenter, a spokesman for the Washington State Liquor Control Board, which regulates pot, said "a lot of people weren't ready."
- The weed isn't ready: Colorado let medical marijuana dispensaries turn into recreational sellers, so they had product available. In Washington people are starting from scratch and only received licenses to grow in March. Many places will ration product initially.
In other words, legal marijuana will be less accessible and more expensive than black market pot, which only makes the illicit, unregulated market more appealing. Policy experts have offered a number of solutions on that front. Mark Kleinman, a policy professor at UCLA, argued in a New Yorker profile last November that Washington should start off with lower taxes on weed. In Washington there's a 25 percent tax on the producer and the processor, on top of the tax customers pay.