Shawn DeNae Eddy Wagenseller
Washington Bud Company
Smokey Point, WA
Cannabis consumers in Washington state have it really good! Washington retailers are packed with multiple selections in any chosen category: flower, oils, edibles, beverages, tinctures, topicals and specialty items, like cannagars.
And unlike any other state I have been to, Washington’s products and branding stand out. They have to be eye-catching, priced right from low shelf to high shelf and, most vitally, liked by the budtenders in order to compete for shelf space and loyalty with the hundreds of competitors.
Why is that intensely different from other states?
Mostly, I believe, it comes down to how we were set up in the beginning. Washington state catered to local, owner-operated, small-footprint cannabis cultivators by limiting our canopy and restricting license ownership to state residents. That opened the door to thousands of legacy growers (and anyone with aspirations to become one) with only a $250 application fee. And it kept the big operators from moving in and piercing our cottage economy.
I doubt the state regulators would do it the same if they had the chance to do it over. It is obviously much easier to control a handful of large operations paying exorbitant license fees than wrangling with hundreds and hundreds of growers.
The Washington cultivators who have made it the past 10 years have become honed to the bone to survive the intense competition and our highest-of-all-states 37% excise tax. We do have a bit of a leg up that we enjoy cheap power and have plenty of water in the state. Our property harvests about 100 pounds every four weeks on single phase power and three water sources. While other states’ power grids have become a concern and water scarcity is a deep worry in many parts of the country, we don’t have that anxiety in Washington.
What we do have is threats that our foundational structure will change. There are forces wanting to open state businesses up to 100% ownership by non-residents and multi-state operators. My attorney friend views that as a likely “mass extinction event” for owner-operated businesses like ours. The blueprint for domination of a market is set in capitalism: undercut the competition with rotating brands to retain the impression there are lots of choices until there are fewer to compete with, then raise prices and limit selections to those with the best ROI. Owner-operated small businesses must run profitably while large, investor-owned MSOs can ride in the red for long lengths of time.
Many of us live on our cultivation property and don’t pay landlords and triple net fees. We fought the local bans and moratoriums to allow us to establish in rural residential locations. We are raising our families, employing locals, buying supplies and services regionally and are a part of our communities. Living on a pot farm is a lifestyle choice for hundreds of us. I feel that needs protection when (and if) the tsunami of out-of-state ownership is allowed.
The state crushed the independent liquor store owners when they allowed sales of booze in store chains. We must learn from that bloodbath and avoid it for our owner-operated cannabis licensees to remain viable and continue supplying the plethora of excellent cannabis products for Washington consumers.