(The Center Square) – COVID-19 couldn’t stop Washington’s cannabis industry from growing in 2020, but state data shows the rate of newcomers to the market is lagging behind other states.
Washington is one of 17 states that legalize cannabis for both medicinal and recreational uses. As of 2016, all cannabis licenses have been regulated and enforced by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB), which limits the number of cannabis licensees in the state.
Every year the agency votes in favor of lifting the cap on producer and tax licenses. In 2020, that number fell behind other cannabis markets.
WSLCB records obtained from The Center Square show that the agency has issued 70 new retail permits nationwide, 41 of which are pending by the end of the year. This increases the number of pharmacies in Washington to 1,005 or about 6.2 per 100,000 population. It also represents a 33% increase from the 334 pharmacies in 2015 when the WSLCB first accepted applications.
Washington’s per capita rate is the second lowest among states that have broadly legalized cannabis, behind California, which has a per capita rate of 1.6 pharmacies per 100,000 people.
Based on Data from cannabis industry tracker Verilife, Oregon, leads the nation in pharmacies per capita. The state was the first in the country to decriminalize cannabis possession in 1973 and fully legalize it in 2015. It has 660 pharmacies across the country. And that’s despite the state’s 17% excise tax on retail sales of cannabis, or the second highest in the country after Washington’s, which is 37%.
Oversteer remains a major problem in the cannabis industry, particularly in Oregon where state lawmakers have tried to allow local governments to triple cannabis use taxes. The proposal failed in committee before the state legislature was adjourned in June.
In their analysis, Verilife ranks 14.1 pharmacies in Colorado per 100,000 residents, or the highest per capita rate in any state where cannabis is fully legalized. Colorado and Washington were both the first states to legalize medical cannabis in 2012.
With the demand for cannabis growing nationwide this decade, the market in Washington remains competitive. The state also closed 190 pharmacies nationwide, according to WSLCB records. Two other retail stores are temporarily closed. Under the federal ban, cannabis entrepreneurs are not entitled to protection under bankruptcy laws, bank loans, and other benefits available in other industries.
Washington’s cannabis industry continues to be a significant part of the state revenue. Economists estimate that it helped keep the state’s balance sheets in the black this year.
The cannabis industry has been invited to participate in the launch of vaccines in Washington through the state’s Joint for Jabs program. It enabled 500 cannabis dealers to set up COVID-19 vaccination clinics with free cannabis joints for patients as an incentive. However, out of a lack of space and a lack of interest from health care providers unwilling to risk federal funds, most chose to partner with an industry that is still illegal at the federal level.