Spring is here! And the seeds I intend to plant are possibilities for the future of our cannabis industry in the minds of legislators and regulators.
One issue getting in the way in Washington state is an abundance of growers, but limited retail outlets, where the tax money is collected.
There are multiple reasons for this imbalance. It began with the initial estimates of future demand undershooting the reality, so regulators limited the store numbers but, oddly, not the growers. Stores were further hampered by the state allocating limited store numbers to cities and counties. Local land use kicked in and the “not-in-my-back-yarders” rallied their council members with unfounded fears that created bans and moratoriums throughout the state preventing retail stores from opening. There are also the de facto bans — municipalities that create zoning restrictions so tight that it is nearly impossible to find an available location in the approved area.
In areas that are zoned for cannabis retail and have available space, we find stores crammed together, creating fierce competition. There are also retail licensees who have not opened on purpose, instead hoping for a fat sale of their license.
One solution is to follow the craft beer and wine industry and let growers sell direct to consumers. Growers would have an outlet for their surpluses and consumers would have a chance to experience the fresh aromas of a garden, as well as a destination-type experience. This would not only cater to consumers who want to know the farmers, but it would also create additional tax-collecting outlets for the state to salivate over.
I did an interview years ago with a local television station and as we were walking in the field that now houses our grow buildings, the reporter asked me about the future. My reply encapsulated this dream of a wine-type region that attracts seekers of destination experiences. Even though it took the wine and beer industry decades to establish on-site tastings and sales in this state, it is still my goal for cannabis farms. I am not alone; many of us would love the opportunity to become a tax-collection hub for the state while educating and interacting with consumers.
Current store owners may feel threatened by this, but I counter that the direct sales model will attract those that want a deeper experience and help create brand loyalty. Each time a consumer wants to buy a Washington Bud Company product, they would probably not drive out to the farm, but would visit their local store to find it.
Land use will again be an issue, but every step we take to establish responsible cannabis production and consumption has that hurdle. Bring it on! Seeds for this future vision need to be planted deeply to take root and I plan to help prepare the ground to make it happen.