Pubdate: Thu, 15 Jan 2015
Source: Virgin Islands Daily News, The (VI)
Copyright: 2015 Virgin Islands Daily News
Author: Peter Robison, Bloomberg News


SEATTLE - Shortages that plagued the start of Washington state's 
legal marijuana market have eased, sending prices in recreational-pot 
stores down as much as 40 percent.

Seattle's first pot shop, Cannabis City, ran out of marijuana in 
three days when it opened in July. Since then, the state has licensed 
more growers, processors and retailers, increasing supply and 
reducing prices to an average of $15 a gram, said Randy Simmons, 
deputy director of the Washington State Liquor Control Board. Prices 
were as much as $25 a gram in July, including taxes.

Even after the decline, that's still 50 percent more than the $10 
gram available on the black market, board officials said in an 
interview Tuesday at Bloomberg's offices in Seattle.

Challenges remain in the state's attempt to supplant illegal sellers. 
An effective tax rate of 44 percent on recreational pot is keeping 
many buyers in the still-unregulated market for medical marijuana, 
and officials say some applicants for store licenses have lacked 
financial backing or expertise.

"We had a lot of people seeing it as a gold mine," Simmons said. They 
underestimated such costs as rent and lab testing, he said.

Colorado and Washington became the first U.S. states to allow 
recreational sales last year, and voters in Alaska, Oregon and the 
District of Columbia have also passed legalization measures. Unlike 
Colorado, which used existing sellers of medical marijuana, 
Washington built its system from scratch.

So far, Washington has issued licenses for 97 of a planned 334 stores 
to serve 7 million residents. While the board plans to license 20 
stores in Seattle, the city already has as many as 300 unlicensed 
medical marijuana dispensaries, said Rick Garza, the liquor board's director.

Seattle's city attorney this week proposed closing illegal 
dispensaries and folding the medical market into the regulated system.

"It makes sense to fold it in," Garza said, citing rampant abuses in 
which people cite "chronic pain" to qualify as marijuana patients.

Washington has also gone more slowly than Colorado in the market for 
marijuana-infused foods. The death last year of a 19- year-old 
college student who fell from a balcony after eating a pot cookie led 
officials to require smaller doses and new labeling rules.

After initially restricting so-called edibles, Washington has allowed 
dozens, from Legal Rainier Cherry Soda to Baked Botanicals 420 Party Mix.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom