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Not Enough Weed To Go Around In Washington Pot Industry

Two bags inside Main Street Marijuana in Vancouver, Washington on opening day.

Two bags inside Main Street Marijuana in Vancouver, Washington on opening day.

John Rosman/OPB

It’s a little after 11 a.m. and there’s a line of people out the door at Main Street Marijuana in downtown Vancouver, Washington. 

A doorman checks IDs, and only lets a few people into the store at a time. Those here today are from all over: Washington, Oregon, New York and California.

People pass a  “menu” down the line.  It lists the types of marijuana on sale, the prices and the THC level.

Some customers said it’s their first time visiting the store. But repeat customers said that even after two months, prices still seem steep. 

Today the weed’s selling for $35 a gram — about two or three times street prices, according to several folks standing in line.

It’s been two months since retail marijuana stores opened in Washington state. Already, the state said sales have exceeded $10 million, but the supply of pot has also been tight, meaning some retail stores in the state can’t be open as often as they’d like. That includes Main Street Marijuana in Vancouver, where as recently as last month the store has been closed at times because it didn’t have enough marijuana in stock.

“There was another store that we tried that was not open so we came here instead,” said Steve Johnson, from Forest Grove, Oregon, who was standing in line.

He said prices keeps going up because there’s not enough supply to meet demand.

“A little surprised by it quite honestly,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of pot out there. I don’t know why they’re having a hard time keeping it supplied. But they are, it is what it is.”

All across Washington state, retail marijuana stores are having a difficult time getting enough pot from growers to keep up with customer demand. Retailers that can get product tend to pay a lot for it.

“The shortages that we were experiencing in the beginning we thought would quickly be going away are still lagging,” said Ramsey Hamide, general manager at Main Street Marijuana.

Recently, he was on a trip in Eastern Washington, lining up growers to sell their marijuana crops to him in order to prevent future closures.

“Well of course we’re trying to get product,” Hamide said. “That’s my first and foremost goal from the moment I wake up to when I go to bed at night.”

In the last two months, after taxes and paying his employees Hamide said left with little – if any — profit.

In turn, marijuana growers said they can’t keep up with demand from retailers.

Kelley Stewart runs Chicken Barn Farms in Longview where she grows about 1400 square feet of marijuana.

Stewart said she gets eight calls a day from pot store owners asking to buy her marijuana crop.

“And I get stuff in the mail and I get emails,” she said. “The growers feel a lot of pressure because we want to keep the retailers with product and we can’t. You go out and talk to your plants and tell them to grow faster and they’re just not going to do it.”

Many are hoping a big fall crop will help ease the supply issue, and subsequently lower the price.

“A lot of people will look to the outdoor grows, which are some of the bigger ones in eastern Washington, 21,000 square feet,” said Brian Smith, a spokesperson for the Washington Liquor Control Board, the agency that regulates the marijuana industry. “They have a harvest that will be coming up September, October. So that product will be making its way to shelves, October, November.”

There’s much as 10 tons of marijuana in production in the state right now — enough to cover 30 football fields, Smith said.

“Some of the store that have lined up multiple suppliers are in much better shape than people that are relying on a single supplier that can’t necessarily get them product on a regular basis,” he said.

According to data from the agency, the state’s brought in $2.5 million in taxes from the industry so far.

Back outside Main Street Marijuana in downtown Vancouver, the steep prices aren’t getting in the way of big sales.

Ken “B” is from Oregon and declined to give his last name because he said his employer might not approve.

“I spent almost $400 dollars,” he said. “That’s a lot to spend for somebody that doesn’t know what they’re doing, isn’t it?”

With that, he closed a bag full of marijuana products. He said it’s been 20 years since he last smoked pot.

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