By now, you’ve probably read a news item or two about that report from the Washington State Institute for Public Policy taking a deep dive into the recreational marijuana sales figures over the past year.
Like any report rife with statistics, much can be gleaned, assumed and extrapolated from the reported figures. Much of the attention has been on the “per capita” table of the report, which lists the counties that have sold the most marijuana per resident. The top five of that list are as follows:
- Klickitat, $65.80
- Clark, $56.93
- Jefferson, $51.23
- Spokane, $47.14
- Cowlitz, $44.68
Read the fine print in the chart, which is on page 22 of the report, and you’ll see that these totals were arrived at by dividing the total number of retail sales by the most recent five-year estimates of county population from the American Community Survey.
There are a couple things to keep in mind as you read these results, and report them. First, I’ve seen people saying that Klickitat sold the most weed over the past year. That’s wrong. King County by far sold the most recreational marijuana, at $48.1 million to Klickitat’s $1.3 million. Spokane’s sales of $22.3 million dwarfed Klickitat, Jefferson and Cowlitz counties, and was slightly less than Clark County’s total of $24.6 million (Spokane has double the number of I-502 retailers, 14, as Clark County's 7).
While it’s usually not good practice for a journalist to criticize the statistical methodology of a think tank, I have to wonder whether the institute’s point may have been better served by dividing the tax revenue produced in each state by the taxpayer – despite the fact that much of the tax revenue still goes to a state pool of money, after some revenue sharing was included in reforms to the system this year.
If you look at the counties that stand out in terms of marijuana sales per capita, you’ll see that almost all are border counties, along the lines of Idaho and Oregon, which didn’t have legal marijuana sales when the Washington market opened in July 2014 (Oregon has since approved a legal, recreational market). I don’t think anyone is naive enough to believe that all of a county’s recreational sales are to people who live in that county, or even that state. Most shops you walk into clearly state they’ll take a driver’s license from any state as proof of being old enough to buy weed.
While sales per capita may capture customers in a county’s stores who do not live there, an illustration of the tax revenue per capita in a county would show how much money the industry is returning to public coffers per taxpayer. Even if that money isn’t going directly to local government.
The one county in the top 5 that doesn’t border another state is Jefferson County, which makes up a large portion of the Olympic Peninsula and reports a population of less than 30,000 people, or less than 10 percent the size of Spokane County. Much of Jefferson County lies within Olympic National Park, and there are two legal marijuana stores, both of them near Port Townsend, which lies across the Puget Sound from Whidbey Island. Make your own conclusions about who’s buying marijuana there.
Some of the most interesting results that aren’t getting a lot of media play are on page 32, where the institute reports the results of the Washington Healthy Youth Survey, which is administered every two years to students in 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th grades throughout Washington. For all grade levels, the percentage of students who said they believed regular marijuana use is harmful fell significantly after passage of I-502. Actual reported usage rates, in both the past 30 days and over a lifetime, remained relatively stagnant, which could either be an indication that students have the same apprehension about reporting marijuana use that they did before the recreational market was created (remember: marijuana possession is still illegal for those under 21) or, while the law has changed attitudes, it hasn’t changed behavior.