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State-Licensed Marijuana Industry Morphing and Growing

December 23, 2015  by  Jim Doherty
Category:  Marijuana

State-Licensed Marijuana Industry Morphing and Growing

The transition of the state-licensed marijuana industry continues. The Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) issued a press release on December 16 that includes a recommendation for a substantial increase in the number of retail stores throughout much of the state, from a current maximum number of 334 licensed stores to 556 licensed stores. The recommendations will be considered by the LCB at their January 6 meeting.

Why the 60% increase? Because the medical marijuana dispensaries that have been operating in many cities and counties across the state are either shutting down or seeking to obtain state retailing licenses in advance of the July 1, 2016 deadline for an integrated medical/recreational marijuana system.

A new report provided to the LCB this month by BOTEC Analysis Corporation estimates that the current state-licensed stores are handling 35% of the statewide $1.3 billion marijuana market. The obvious goal is for the state-licensed retailers to take over the existing medical marijuana dispensary business, estimated at 37% of the market, and eliminate the illicit (unregulated and untaxed) market, which is now estimated to account for 28% of marijuana sales.

What does that mean for most cities and counties across the state? It means an increase in the number of state-licensed retailers that will be setting up shop. The LCB press release includes a link to a listing of the maximum number of stores that will be licensed in each county, with a specific number of stores allocated to some of the incorporated cities within each county. This is similar to the prior LCB cap on the number of retailers in cities and counties across the state, but with an obvious increase in numbers. For the past few months, the caps on retailers had been removed while the LCB staff wrestled with determining the appropriate number of retailers needed when the state-licensed market absorbs the medical marijuana businesses.

We have been asked what the designation “at large” means in the LCB chart. The "at large" stores are retail stores that will be issued licenses for locations within a county, but not within a listed city. The "at large" stores could be located in unincorporated areas of the county or in an incorporated city or town that is not listed.

Some cities and counties continue to prohibit any state-licensed marijuana retailers. Those jurisdictions will not be directly impacted by these changes. Over the course of 2015, the number of cities and counties choosing to accommodate the state-licensed marijuana industry has grown. Currently, 34 of 39 counties and 193 of 281 cities allow state-licensed marijuana businesses; see MRSC’s statewide map for details on how jurisdictions are zoning for marijuana businesses.

Have a question or comment about this information? Post in the comments below or contact me directly at

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Jim Doherty

Jim had over 24 years of experience researching and responding to varied legal questions at MRSC. He had special expertise in transmission pipeline planning issues, as well as the issues surrounding medical and recreational marijuana. He is now retired.



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