SEATTLE (AP) — Washington state's first recreational marijuana stores began opening for business Tuesday, more than a year and a half after voters decided to legalize, tax and regulate pot. Some questions and answers about the industry:
WHEN AND WHERE CAN I BUY WEED IN WASHINGTON?
The state's Liquor Control Board on Monday issued the first 24 licenses to shops seeking to sell recreational marijuana — 14 stores in western Washington and 10 in eastern Washington.
Sales began Tuesday morning at two shops in Bellingham and one in Prosser. Three other stores planned to open later in the day: one in Seattle, one in Kelso and one in Spokane.
Some stores said they will open later this week or next, while others said they were unsure when they would obtain marijuana to sell. Liquor Control Board list: https://lcb.app.box.com/retail-7-7 .
WILL IT BE EXPENSIVE?
Yes. Although some stores say they plan to sell some of their supply for as little as $10 or $12 a gram — comparable to what it costs at the state's unregulated medical dispensaries — others expect it to go for $25 or more.
The issue is mainly supply. More than 2,600 people applied to become licensed marijuana growers, but fewer than 100 have been approved. And only about a dozen producers in the state were ready to harvest by early this month.
According to the two labs certified to check the pot for mold and other impurities, the samples they had tested by last Thursday represent a maximum initial statewide harvest of about 440 pounds.
Some growers are asking $4,000 per pound wholesale. The marijuana is heavily taxed: 25 percent at wholesale and 25 percent at retail, at least, plus additional sales taxes. Officials don't expect prices to stabilize until after many more growers begin harvesting.
HOW MUCH CAN I BUY?
State law allows the sale of up to an ounce of dried marijuana, 16 ounces of pot-infused solids, 72 ounces of pot-infused liquids or 7 grams of concentrated marijuana, like hashish, to adults over 21, whether you're a Washington resident or not.
But there isn't expected to be any infused food or drink available right away: As of last week, the Liquor Control Board had issued no licenses to processors of those products, and approved no edibles for sale. Some stores are talking about limiting customers to one 2-gram package apiece to make sure there's enough for everyone to buy some.
WHAT TOOK SO LONG TO GET THE STORES OPEN?
Colorado already had a regulated medical marijuana system, making for a smoother transition when it allowed those dispensaries to start selling to recreational pot shops on Jan. 1.
Washington's medical system is unregulated, so officials here were starting from scratch as they immersed themselves in the pot world and tried to come up with regulations. The rules include protocols for testing marijuana, requirements for child-resistant packaging, and guidelines for what types of edibles should be allowed and what types of security systems pot shops and growers should have.
Ultimately, though, much of the delay can be attributed to overwhelming interest. The liquor board received nearly 7,000 applications from people who wanted to grow, process or sell marijuana.
Each of them needs to be vetted, with criminal and financial background checks, reviews to ensure they're not too close to a school or daycare, and approval of their business and security plans. It's time-consuming work, and the board's 18 licensing investigators have been swamped.
WHERE DOES THE TAX MONEY GO, AND WHO'S PAYING FOR PROGRAMS TO PREVENT PROBLEMS?
The measure voters passed in 2012 directs 40 percent of the new revenues to the state general fund and local budgets, with the rest dedicated to substance-abuse prevention, research, education and health care. But tax revenue hasn't come in yet. With sales about to start, the state Health Department scraped together $400,000 for a new radio and online advertisement campaign urging parents to talk to their kids about marijuana and visit www.learnaboutmarijuanawa.org .