Local marijuana growers and sellers are riding high nearly a year after sales started in Washington.
Pot puns aside, the recreational marijuana market has proven to be an economic force in Cowlitz County.
Since retail sales started July 8 last year, more than $5 million has exchanged hands and at least 60 jobs created in the county as a result of the marijuana trade.
Most of that activity — about $4 million — has been among the area’s five retail stores, which have seen business blooming.
“We’re green and growing in the right direction,” said Freedom Market owner Kathy Nelson. “It’s amazing how much money is going right back into the community from this.”
Like stores statewide, those locally have seen sales steadily rise, according to data from the state Liquor Control Board.
“Business has been growing every month,” said Andy Dhalai, owner of 420 Holiday in Longview.
But he said Oregon and its own nascent recreational marijuana laws could shake things up.
“Now it’s like we’ve got another market (to compete with),” Dhalai said.
Not only will the Oregon market change the game, the rules changed in a big way thanks to a few bills that made it out of the Legislature this session.
The medical marijuana market was reformed and will be incorporated into recreational stores in the next few months, which has been lauded by recreational business groups and decried by medical patients.
Another change that went into effect Wednesday will see marijuana customers taxed at 37 percent instead of 25 percent, though the 25 percent tax on growers and processors will disappear. That will reduce the total tax load on the product, though the market may take a while to catch up with the change.
When the market opened last year, low supplies couldn’t meet high demand, and prices zoomed.
“Remember $35 grams, and $50 in Seattle?” Dhalai said, noting that was well above black market or medical marijuana prices.
Today a gram of cannabis costs $7 and up and beyond, depending on quality.
As for the growing and processing side of things, Cowlitz County was slower to come along and makes up a small fraction of total state sales.
“It’s a tough market, but we’re doing all right,” said Melecio Vega, the lead grower at Longview’s Bondi Farms. “We’ve got 14 employees right now; we’re expanding; we’re in a couple of stores in town.”
Six of 13 licensed growers and processors in the county have reported sales that total about $1 million.
Bondi Farms and Kelso’s Green America handily lead sales among those, according to state data.
But the industry is very young.
“It’s too soon to tell how it will be once everything idles out,” Vega said.
Though there have been a few attempted burglaries at retail shops, the security systems mandated by the state have proved effective, and Nelson said the security industry has definitely benefited from legal marijuana.
Though a county survey last year showed high school kids increasingly don’t view pot as harmful, there haven’t been any reported sales by recreational stores to minors.
In fact, local stores haven’t been cited for any rules violations, according to Liquor Control Board violation data.
“It’s been a positive experience so far. ... I think most people have been receptive and open to legalization here,” said Ryan Drost, owner of Localamster. “It’s been handled very responsibly.”