SEATTLE — As Washington becomes the second state to permit the legal sale of marijuana, availability will be limited after officials approved just 24 of 334 allotted retail licenses.
Pot retailers eligible to open stores today include Main Street Marijuana in Vancouver and Cannabis City in Seattle, the only one in the state’s largest city, according to a list released by the Washington State Liquor Control Board.
“What we found is that many of our applicants just weren’t ready to be licensed yet,” said Brian Smith, a spokesman for the agency charged with regulating the industry. Many are still negotiating with landlords, he said.
Washington — home to Amazon.com Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Starbucks Corp. — joins Colorado in permitting the sale of marijuana for recreational use. Voters in both states approved 2012 ballot initiatives, and Colorado retailers began selling it in January.
Alaska voters will consider a measure for recreational sales in November, and an effort is underway to place a similar initiative on the ballot in Oregon. Two years from now, legal-pot advocates plan campaigns in Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Maine and Montana. Selling marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
Meanwhile in New York state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday signed legislation making New York the 23rd state to allow medical marijuana, calling his approach, which forbids smoking of the drug and includes strict limits, the “smartest” of any state yet. Under the guidelines, access to the drug will be limited to patients with very serious and terminal illnesses; the drug can only be administered through vaporizing, oils and edibles; and the Democratic governor reserves the right to disband the program at any time.
“This new law takes an important step toward bringing relief to patients living with extraordinary pain and illness,” Mr. Cuomo told a news conference at the New York Academy of Medicine, flanked by lawmakers and 9-year-old Amanda Houser, who suffers from seizures.
The legislation “gets us the best that medical marijuana has to offer in the most protected, controlled way possible,” the governor said. “I really believe that this is the smartest approach that any state has taken thus far.”
Other states have approved far more permissive laws. Beyond Washington state‘s and Colorado’s decriminalization of recreational use, patients in other states can grow their own pot, obtain it from a dispensary or both. Medical marijuana is also legal in the District of Columbia.
The New York law‘s signing followed years of advocacy by proponents of medical marijuana. While applauding passage of the new law, advocates said it was not as comprehensive as patients had hoped, and that the timeline was too slow.
“I'm heartened that the governor understands the medicinal benefits of medical cannabis. My son and so many others need this medicine right away,” said Missy Miller, whose son Oliver suffered a brain-stem injury in utero and now as a teenager has hundreds of seizures a day. “The 18-month timeline for implementation suggested in the bill is simply too long for Oliver,” Ms. Miller said in a statement issued by the Drug Policy Alliance.
State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said the state's goal would be to get the program up and running “swiftly, safely and efficiently.” The assembly has been approving versions of the bills for the better part of two decades. The current bill passed both houses of the Legislature on June 20.
Conditions it covers include cancer, HIV/AIDS, ALS, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, certain spinal cord injuries, irritable bowel syndrome, epilepsy, neuropathy and Huntington's disease
Pot bought in Washington state must be consumed there.
Cannabis City owner James Lathrop said he invested $50,000 in his store, located in an industrial section south of downtown Seattle, along a six-lane road and with no off-street parking. He said he was turned down by 10 landlords who didn’t want to be associated with marijuana. His store’s name is in small print above the mailbox. Under Washington’s rules, cannabis can’t be displayed in windows, and stores can’t be near schools, playgrounds, libraries or parks.
“This spot was really a terrible spot, but it’s cheap rent,” said Mr. Lathrop, who previously ran a bar. “Most of my costs have been in making it beautiful.” Inside, recycled glass jewelry cases display pipes and bongs, or devices that filter marijuana smoke through water.
Washington also issued 90 licenses to producers and processors, Mr. Smith said, citing data as of last week. There’s no limit on how many such permits can be issued.
Under the ballot measure approved by Washington voters, producers, processors and retailers each must pay the state a 25 percent excise tax. The actual levy on pot sales will be lower than the combined 75 percent because many producers and processors will operate as one entity.
Washington’s revenue from recreational sales is projected to fall 69 percent short of initial estimates. Two years ago, state officials projected tax revenue totaling as much as $1.9 billion from July 2013 through June 2017. Officials last month estimated revenue at $586 million over the four years starting in July 2015.
Washington state growers are still struggling to produce enough product to meet demand. With as many as 2,000 customers expected today, Cannabis City will probably sell out of its 10 pounds of pot in a single day, store manager Amber McGowan said. It may take another week to replenish stocks, including such strains as Copper Kush, O.G.’s Pearl and Sweet Lafayette, she said. Pot will be priced at $20 per gram, she said.