June 2, 2016 4:49 pm
Updated: June 2, 2016 8:20 pm

Legalized marijuana: Capitalizing on cannabis or profiting from potheads?

WATCH ABOVE: Recreational marijuana use has been legal in Washington for a few years, and it's meant huge profits for the state. Robin Gill has a closer look at how lucrative Initiative 502 has been.

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VANCOUVER — 420 is a mega-marijuana mart in Olympia, Washington — a big box store selling pot from local producers with names like “time bomb.”

But business is certainly booming, according to owner Chad Champagne, and there was a steady stream of customers the morning and afternoon Global News paid a visit to the store.

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READ MORE: Marijuana companies have budding aspirations for pot legalization in Canada

“Demand is high,” Champagne told Global News. “People now feel comfortable coming in and buying pot.”

He said his customer base is a bit older than many might expect. “People in their mid-40s and mostly male.”

The cash-only joint is run like Fort Knox, with three different security systems and night patrols.

But in the backroom, vaults are filled with the green stuff rather than greenbacks.

Washington state law allows for adults over the age of 21 to purchase pot to be consumed in the privacy of their own homes. Initiative 502 made recreational pot legal in Washington state in 2012 and retail stores have been allowed to operate since 2014.

READ MORE: Colorado pot report: More adults smoking weed, not kids

According to the website 502data.com, pot shops in the state can take in anywhere from US $5,000 to $50,000 a day. 420 is somewhere in the middle.

“The overall scope of the business is growing,” Champagne said.

The green rush happening in Washington state is proving to be a boon for both business owners and the state.

So far, overall revenue is at about $1 billion, while the state has collected $210 million in taxes.

“The idea was if you regulate it like alcohol, that money can be used for the state rather than for the black market,” said Rick Garza, director of the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Board.

WATCH: Is cannabis Canada’s next cash crop? Robin Gill reports.

Washington charges a 37 per cent excise tax, as well as a 9 per cent sales tax. Some stores include it in the overall price. Others add it at the till.

But Mark Kleiman, who advised the state on how to proceed with its public health policy, is critical of the current situation and believes the state — and the industry — is profiting from potheads.

“The vast majority use marijuana occasionally and they contribute nothing to revenue,” said Kleiman, a professor of public policy at New York University. “It comes from people who are smoking all the time.”

He said the only way to manage this problem is to keep prices high.

Right now, however, prices are down because there is plenty of pot to go around. In fact, the state is allowing licenced producers to grow up to 12.3 million square feet of marijuana, or the equivalent of about 300 football fields, to supply the medical and recreational marijuana markets.

“A gram used to sell for $20 to $30,” 420’s Champagne said. “Now, it’s $8 to $15.”

Low-cost pot is a big concern for those opposed to legal marijuana sales.

Derek Franklin is with the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention — a group that fought to stop Initiative 502 and lost.

He calls legal pot a “public health disaster.”

“Our culture likes to abuse things. This is an abusable substance,” Franklin told Global News.

But, the state argues it was the will of the people.

“People felt marijuana is as available as alcohol and alcohol is regulated and taxed highly,” said. Garza.

WATCH: More reporting on Canada’s plans to legalize marijuana

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