Second Down and $8 Billion to Go

By: Cecil King    

Second Down and $8 Billion to Go

On July 1, 2016 the state of Washington will finish the last phase of integrating the state’s existing medical cannabis program into the established retail cannabis program.

New licensing edicts will transform the older system of medical cannabis dispensaries into medically endorsed retail shops.

Washington’s Cannabis Patient Protection Act grants medical cannabis patients some new benefits, yet takes away hard-won rights medical cannabis patients have enjoyed since 1998.

On the plus side, registered medical cannabis patients now can buy three times the amount of cannabis products more than a non-medical retail cannabis consumer. Sales tax is not collected on medical cannabis products if purchased at a medically endorsed retail store by a registered patient.

Will the Washington cannabis market have enough product on hand to supply the influx of medical patients during this change over to the new system? This is the question answered by a recent study commissioned by the newly renamed Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB).

The University of Washington’s Cannabis Law and Policy Project (CLPP) had the task of calculating the “grow canopy,” or square footage, required to supply the state’s entire medical marijuana market. The study was mandated by the passage of the 2015 Cannabis Patient Protection Act (SB 5052).

The CLPP report estimates that between 1.7 and 2.0 million square feet — equal to 30 to 34 football fields — of cannabis plants could satisfy the medical marijuana market.

Currently, Washington’s LCB has approved 12.3 million square feet of canopy, more than enough to cover the state’s medical cannabis program many times over. Aside from this fairly simple math problem to solve, the CLPP did face challenges in conducting the study and uncovered some interesting statistics.

“Determining the size of Washington’s medical marijuana market was no easy task for the University of Washington (UW) CLPP team,” offers Deborah Bach, UW News and Information spokesperson, “since dispensaries and collective gardens have gone mostly unregulated until recently.”

Without a complete list of dispensaries statewide, the researchers had to rely on the only reliable, up-to-date and accurate information available – the Internet. The UW research team, which included five law students, combed the websites of leafly.com, weedmaps.com and headshopfinder.com for medical cannabis and dispensary information.

Here is what they found:

  • There were an estimated 273 medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington in January 2016
  • Dispensaries sell an average of 9.55 pounds of marijuana flower monthly
  • The average price of marijuana per gram sold by these dispensaries is less than $10
  • Marijuana flower comprises 60 percent of sales at dispensaries, followed by concentrates (22 percent) and edibles (18 percent)

What’s the most revealing statistic of all? Missouri cannabis activists’ jaws will hit the floor with this statistic – the market value for Washington’s licensed cannabis crop, based on 10 million square feet of canopy, is worth more than $8 billion.

Washington has clearly scored a game-changing touchdown with this $8 billion statistic, unseating Colorado’s paltry $1.2 billion in estimated sales by the end of 2016. While Missouri still remains on the sidelines because of prohibitionist policies, other states know how to play the game and win!

To put Washington’s legal cannabis crop in perspective, Missouri’s top two cash crops combined, soybeans and corn, come in $2.49 billion under Washington’s cannabis crop. Missouri’s entire soybean ($2.48 billion) and corn ($2.03 billion) crops generate $5.51 billion (2010 to 2014 avg.) for the state according to University of Missouri Commercial Agricultural Extension statistics.