Recreational marijuana is now legal in both Colorado and Washington State. Colorado was the first to get their recreational business up and running, but what Washington lacks in speed, it seems to be making up for in a better revenue growth model.
The Biggest Difference
The laws in Colorado and Washington are relatively similar from both a consumer and business standpoint, with one major difference. In Colorado dispensaries are selling product grown in-house. It’s actually against Colorado law for caregivers to sell to dispensaries.
Washington’s laws make clear distinctions between the growers, producers, and dispensaries, taxing each tier separately. Growers grow marijuana and sell it to either dispensaries or producers, who make concentrates and edibles to be sold in dispensaries soon.
From a consumer standpoint, this slight difference means in Colorado, visiting a dispensary is like choosing Jelly Bellies at a candy shop, or drinking beer from the tap. In Washington, the products are prepackaged like a bag of Skittles at the gas station, or a bottle of beer.
Distribution After Decriminalization
Federal decriminalization of cannabis is the dream of everyone involved in this industry,except retail dispensaries, which are unlikely to survive their entire stock being fit into a micro-kiosk at Wal-Mart and 7-Eleven, courtesy of big tobacco and big alcohol. They then become nothing more than corner stores with a lot of empty shelf space.
In Washington’s model, these trailblazing dispensary owners will simply die off, unattached to anything tangible in the evolved marketplace. Seattle will likely be the main hub of companies being bought out by larger corporations and producing the products we see on store shelves throughout the nation.
Colorado’s dispensary owners have much more than just their storefronts – they also have plants, and many have custom strains they’ll be able to fight for licensing of. This is what will keep Colorado in the game after federal decriminalization, becoming somewhat of a producer of raw product and “micro-brews.”
The Cost of Doing Business
Retail sales and tax projections in Colorado were much lower than experts predicted, and it has nothing to do with support of legalized marijuana. The culprit is the medical marijuana business, which any customer at any dispensary can clearly see costs them less for the same high.
Any long-term recreational drug user goes for the best pricing, and, with retail stores in Colorado selling product as high as $35 a gram in Aspen and surrounding tourist areas, it’s no wonder sales are limited to a one-time-only tourist experience.
Washington is even worse, as last week I visited Altitude, my first Washington dispensary, in Prosser. They only had 2-gm packages of herb for $55, or 1-gm packages of kief for $130…seriously. It was the highest price I paid for pot in my entire life, and it would’ve been midgrade at best in Colorado dispensaries.
On top of that, in CO I would likely have been given a little more than I paid for, an impossibility with Washington’s pre-packaged products.
Overall, if you’re looking to exercise your freedoms to legal recreational cannabis, I would suggest Colorado over Washington, unless you’re addicted to the ocean, like a surfer friend of mine. Either way I highly suggest taking a trip to either one, because there’s nothing quite like the feeling of blazing a blunt you purchased legally in a store.
Brian Penny is a former Operations Manager and Business Analyst at Bank of America turned whistleblower. He’s a frequent contributor to The Street, Huffington Post, Cannabis Now, and Fast Company.