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Cannabis trends across Washington state

The context: Marijuana in Washington

On November 6, 2012 Washington voters approved I-502 creating a legal marijuana market for adults 21 and older with growing, processing, and sales all to be regulated by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (formerly the Liquor Control Board). Questions are often asked about the impact of a new law. These questions are difficult to answer given that laws generally follow changes in local policies which follow changes in social norms and behavior. For these reasons, it is important when looking at trends over time to consider many years before the passage of a law and to also consider whether the changes are objectively real, or due to changes in measures such as survey question wording or how people self-report their behaviors.

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Legal retail sales

The first legal non-medical cannabis retail stores in Washington opened in July of 2014, after many months of planning, licensing, and rule-making. The number of stores increased slowly initially. The first several thousand sales were entirely unrefined marijuana plant ("bud"), but eventually local producers began bringing to market hash oils and butters, tinctures, food, and candies with varying cannabinoid contentcontent, generally with a higher THC content than unrefined "bud". (Cannabinoids are the active ingredients in cannabis, of which THC is one.) Initially, I-502 created a 25% excise tax on all wholesale and retail sales--a product would be taxed when sold from producer to processor (unless the producer had a producer-processor license), again when sold from processor to retail outlet, and finally when sold to a consumer. Effective July 1, 2015, this tax system was changed to a single, retail-level 37% excise tax. (All taxes are in addition to the usual business and occupation and sales taxes.)

The LCB tracks sales data for the non-medicinal market (and soon for all legal sales, including the medicinal market). Since retail sales began on July 8, 2014, the market continues to grow, as seen below, both in terms of revenue (shelf price = base price + taxes) and in terms of usable marijuana weight sold (considering only the marijuana itself, as, e.g., 100mg of marijuana could be in a 200mg chocolate bar or a 500mg chocolate bar). The crossing of the two lines implies weight sold is going up faster than the price, or that the price per pound of underlying marijuana is going down, as often happens in a growing market in which available profits attract new competition. From the third quarter of 2014 to Q2 2016 the average price per pound of usable marijuana decreased from $23,464 per pound to $8,221 per pound ($18.12 per gram, including excise taxes). By the second quarter of 2016, this market had grown to over $300 million in regulated, non-medical marijuana sales--over $3.3 million per day. Updated sales and other data are available on the LCB Dashboard.

Data source: Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board