Washington’s recreational marijuana business has been up and running for about six months now, and retailers as well as regulators are starting to get a better handle on the challenges as well as successes that come with an industry that is quickly gaining legitimacy but is still deemed illegal by the federal government.
When recreational marijuana retail stores first opened, maintaining inventory was a primary concern. According to Brian Smith, spokesman for the Washington Liquor Control Board, the agency that oversees the industry’s regulation, supply was a natural problem to have right out of the gate.
“When we first opened back in July, over the first couple of months the retail operations supply was tight,” he said. “That’s not a surprise – you’re creating an industry from scratch.”
Six months into it, however, the situation is now entirely different. Statewide, said Smith, “Stores are flush with product. In fact, people are complaining about too much product driving prices too low.”
At Vancouver’s New Vansterdam (6515 East Mill Plain Blvd.), increased supply is leading to the ability to be more selective.
“When we opened we were lucky to open with five pounds per day, and within about two hours that’d be gone,” said Shon-Lueiss Harris, New Vansterdam assistant manager. “Now it’s pretty much the opposite. We are able to pick and choose on our product. We have denied growers and we can be more selective.”
According to Liquor Control’s Smith, many hurdles still exist as the industry develops. Due to federal regulations, many retailers still have trouble finding banks that will work with them.
“About three-fourths of our licenses are paying by check,” said Smith, “which means they have an account somewhere, but many banks are still leery. We want to see the banks be able to embrace these businesses. We’ve been working with the Department of Financial Institutions, which has been working with the Congressional delegation. When you have a product that’s illegal federally, there are way more roadblocks than you would expect. We are operating with permission, but a path hasn’t been laid for us.”
Moratoriums around the state, as we have here in Clark County and in cities like Camas, Ridgefield and La Center, also present a challenge.
“There are a number of people wanting to operate in those areas, so that market is not being served by a regulated industry,” Smith said. “So you’re going to continue to have black market in those communities.”
According to Harris, New Vansterdam is going to spend future months focusing on getting customer feedback to improve product and store responsiveness. New Vansterdam is presently the top-selling recreational pot shop in the state.
“Our challenge now,” added Harris, “is collecting feedback and getting a good sense of what the whole population would like. Customer feedback is important to us, and so is education.”
Historically, customers in this industry rarely received any formal education about the product. But, said Harris, “as we start to see new products and concentrates, people need to be educated. And we see that as part of our responsibility.”