The multi-million-dollar cannabis industry continues to evolve in Whatcom County and its impacting the local economy. Since it was legalized five years ago, recreational cannabis sales have soared and dozens of shops have opened across the county.
Whatcom County now has 79 producers/processors and 26 licensed retail stores, according to 502data.com. The increase in shops has resulted in a dramatic increase in sales and generated millions in tax revenue.
When recreational cannabis was legalized in 2014, Whatcom County generated $3 million in retail sales. Fast forward to2017 and the county generated $56 million in retail sales, according to 502data.com. In 2017 Washington state collected$319 million in marijuana taxes and license fees. According to the Washington State Department of Revenue, tax revenue grew by almost $130 million from the previous year.
Other noticeable changes since legalization are the demographics of customers. Early on it was primarily males between the ages of 21-35, said Aaron Nelson, vice president at 20/20 Solutions. Now the industry serves customers between the ages of 21-90 and spans more of the female spectrum, Nelson said. More elderly patrons are also frequenting the shops than did in 2014, Nelson added.
Over the last five years, the products that customers pursue has shifted and so have their prices. In 2014 the price of flower was between $12-$20 per gram, now it’s between $7-$15, Nelson said. Flower made up 77 percent of sales in 2014 but now accounts for only 49 percent, Nelson said.
There has been a large move towards concentrates which can be used in electronic cigarettes and produce little to no odor. In 2014 concentrates made up just 7 percent of sales but now accounts for 36 percent of sales, Nelson said.
From a community standpoint cannabis has become more widely accepted, said Danielle Rosellison, owner of Trail Blazin’ Productions. However, the future of the industry is set at the state and federal level, she added. Rosellison was Ambassador of the Year in 2017 for the Bellingham Regional Chamber of Commerce and board president of The Cannabis Alliance.
One of the biggest pushes for cannabis businesses is for more banking access. While banking no longer looks like duffle bags of cash, channels are still limited. User fees for a basic checking account are $250 a month in addition to paying a percentage of all cash deposits, Rosellison said.
Cannabis retailers do not have access to lines of credit or small business loans from banks. Compounded with an increasing business fee structures it can be difficult for small operations to stay viable, Rosellison said.
“Everyone likes to show that the cannabis industry is just raking in the dough,” Rosellison said. “But from what our experience has been is that the rich are getting richer, the government is making a killing and the people that have fought so hard for this industry, the people that have come from the cannabis culture, the people who have been supplying to patients and consumers for decades are being pushed out left and right.”
Most cannabis retailers can now accept debit cards. This is made possible by a solution that has been found to work within the guidelines. If you use a debit card at a cannabis retailer you are buying cryptocurrency which in turn is used to buy the product, Nelson said. The hope is that in the future retailers can accept credit cards. However, this depends on federal legalization, Nelson said.
Consumers can make a difference in the amount of money that stays in Whatcom County, by supporting local stores and local farms, Rosellison said. There is enough product grown in Whatcom County to supply every single store in Whatcom County with every kind of product, she added.
“If we are going to create an industry that moves us into the next century, that isn’t just about profits over people, then we have to have everybody at the table to figure out what that looks like,” Rosellison said. “That includes customers, farms, retailers, labs, transport companies, businesses, patients, veterans and minority groups.”