Marijuana Sales (Finally) Kick Off in Washington State - but Sellers Are in Short Supply

Washington state’s legal retail marijuana industry, the second in the US after Colorado, opened for business on Tuesday, but many business owners lucky enough to score a coveted license in a state lottery were not ready to start selling pot on time.

Long lines wrapped around the businesses that did open, like Cannabis City, in an industrial neighborhood south of downtown Seattle, where some customers waited all night to claim their part in the historic moment. Down the street, a McDonald’s and a Subway stood ready to absorb the ancillary economic effects of increased retail traffic in the neighborhood, which acts as a staging area for private port-based businesses like warehousing and freight forwarding.

Tight restrictions prevented the shops – where customers can buy but not consume marijuana products – from opening near schools, playgrounds, childcare centers, parks, public transit nodes and other facilities likely to attract children.

Certain streets in Seattle are already lined with medical marijuana shops, where employees refer hopeful buyers to herb-friendly doctors who can provide a prescription. But the lure of buying weed purely for recreational purposes has created a customer demand that will quickly exhaust the retail stores’ small supply of state-sanctioned marijuana.

The state will collect taxes equal to 25% of marijuana sales at each step on the supply chain: from producers to processors, from processors to retailers and from retailers to the public.

It’s unclear how many of those customers may be from elsewhere. Out-of-state residents will be allowed to buy marijuana in Washington, but they can not legally take it out of the state.

Washington’s stores opened without a supply of the edible marijuana products that have proven to be a regulatory challenge in Colorado, in the hope that the delay would allow producers to adjust existing recipes, the strengths of which were attuned to medical users, for newcomers.

Though Washington law does not pre-empt federal statute, under which marijuana is still illegal, the Justice Department assured Washington governor Jay Inslee that it would not sue to overturn the state’s development of a highly regulated marijuana market. Inslee and Washington state attorney general Bob Ferguson announced that the Justice Department would focus on enforcing the Controlled Substance Act’s provisions against distribution to minors and beyond state borders, among other things.

It is still illegal in Washington state to grow your own marijuana, to buy it on the black market and to consume it in public.

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