Now that Oregon has charged into legalization, and at a faster clip than Washington has, I'd like to make a sweeping—and perhaps ill-advised—prediction about the notoriously unpredictable world of marijuana capitalism: By this time next year, local cannabis connoisseurs will be using high-quality, low-priced, gray-market weed that’s being quietly trucked up from Oregon. And the nation’s savvy marijuana tourists will be going to Portland instead of Seattle.
That’s thanks to this year’s legislative session, when lawmakers in Washington and Oregon veered in opposite directions: We went conservative (cracking down on medical marijuana, establishing a 37 percent excise tax, prohibiting recreational home-grows, keeping our retail cap at 334 shops), they went liberal (allowing all adults to buy at dispensaries until the recreational industry is established, putting a 17 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana, keeping medical marijuana tax-free, and refusing a cap on retail licenses), and our border is not well-policed. “It’ll be interesting to watch the dynamic along the Columbia,” says Tom Towslee of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. “It’s the first time states have started legalizing marijuana, and the first time with contiguous states. There’s always this vague notion that you can’t take marijuana across state lines. I’m not sure how that’ll be enforced.”
Michael Keysor, CEO of the Northwest Cannabis Market—which doesn’t sell marijuana, but has rented space to hundreds of vendors since 2011—says Washington’s new laws restricting medical marijuana were a crude gambit by a few recreational entrepreneurs to smother their competition. (The cornerstone of this year’s changes was Senate Bill 5052, written by Republican Ann Rivers with heavy input from the Washington CannaBusiness Association. Back in April, when 5052 was being debated, Republican representative Cary Condotta noted that there were “a lot of lobbyists working on it.”) “It’s about money and greed,” Keysor says. “They want to push us out of the way and think that’ll prop up their failed system.”
But Keysor, like Towslee, suspects the restrictions might end up pinching Washington’s recreational industry in ways it didn’t predict. “I’ve seen more than 2.5 million patients over four years,” Keysor says, “and they will not go to recreational shops. They’re going back underground.” Many of the serious growers, he says, “are headed to Oregon. They’re taking their crops, taking their expertise, and you’ll never see them again.”
We might not see them—but we may come to know and love what they produce.