18 states are licensed to sell recreational marijuana. But only 16 serve all their residents

The number of state-run cannabis shops is still more than 200 short of the 25,633 required in the framework of next year’s retail cannabis license programme

There are 16 cannabis stores for every 10,000 residents of Washington state, a discrepancy equal to one of every 3,000 residents. The region is generally considered more urban than other US states, with about 95% of its 2.3 million residents living in urban areas.

“It is a huge problem and there are no easy answers right now,” said Keith MacKay, spokesman for the Washington state Liquor Control Board. “It is what it is.”

The number of state-run cannabis shops is still more than 200 short of the 25,633 required in the framework of next year’s retail cannabis license programme. After the licensing process is complete, the liquor board expects that each state-operated pot shop will have to open by 2021.

If that continues to be the case, he said, there will be a challenge for the industry to survive, but it also reflects the diversity of the cannabis market, which includes a smattering of smaller, independent operators.

Some municipalities have limited the number of stores allowed, or banned all pot shops from that area. The Washington state law allows recreational marijuana only in cities and counties with cannabis-friendly zoning ordinances.

Just as the majority of marijuana buyers are men, the distribution system also reflects that.

Of Washington’s 67 licensed marijuana retailers, 38 have either closed or been bought out, 11 went out of business and the rest are expected to close by the end of this year. Their average age is 70, and 62% are male.

Although they are businesses owned by licensed marijuana operators, they have still been grappling with who owns them, what the regulators want and how to distribute them.

“Business is the last thing on my mind,” said Dianne Gilliam, 71, who owns Mush’s as well as a medical marijuana dispensary in Olympia, Washington. “I’ve got to get through this election period, get through the elections in 2020,” she said, and then set about negotiations with both the cannabis regulator and its state attorney, for the right to sell recreational marijuana.

Gilliam’s marijuana retailing business was put on hold until 2021 because she is only allowed to operate in the city of Olympia. She said she doesn’t want to be limited to her existing customers, many of whom are non-cannabis users.

The operators of the other 40 recreational stores have been battling with Washington’s liquor board to keep their existing states of accreditation – the only group that can certify them as a non-profit cannabis cooperative in Washington state.

The state used to have 53 so-called compassion centers, but they have been shut down by the federal government, as the plant is still considered illegal under federal law.

Over the last few years, Washington has struggled to get its system of retail stores up and running. Supporters of retail cannabis said the state is a major step forward in legalisation and that it’s a normal part of business to encounter barriers.

“This is the nature of the industry we are in,” said Stephanie Meeks, executive director of the Washington state Liquor Control Board. “We don’t operate in a vacuum.”

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