Consumers spent $1 million last month on legal marijuana in Spokane County, the first time recreational sales eclipsed that mark since shops opened this summer.
While market shares have tumbled for many of the county’s early openers, overall sales continued to rise in November as the nascent industry grabs a foothold in the market. Customers at the county’s eight pot shops spent 22 percent more on recreational marijuana last month than they did in August.
Sales figures reported to the Washington Liquor Control Board have local officials jockeying for a piece of the growing tax revenue pie, while shop owners scramble for customers who have more options.
After enjoying a summer of relative sales dominance, Spokane County’s first recreational marijuana shop has seen its market share dip, according to sales figures tracked by the Liquor Control Board.
Spokane Green Leaf, near the North Division Y, earned two out of every three dollars spent on legal marijuana in the county in August, when just four shops were open for business. Now, Spokane’s legal marijuana consumers have seven more stores to choose from, including locations in Spokane, Spokane Valley, Millwood and elsewhere.
Those stores are competing for a growing chunk of change, as marijuana revenues have increased every month since Green Leaf opened its doors in early July.
But more competition has meant lower sales for most stores after big openings. Green Leaf made about half in sales last month as it did in August. Other shops have seen less drastic drop-offs, but only Spokane Valley’s Greenlight has continued to increase its revenue for three consecutive months.
Greenlight co-owner Sonny Langdon said last month he wanted to create a shop where customers would feel welcome, despite the ongoing stigma about the product.
“If people can go to the store and not feel like a scumbag, that’s a good thing,” he said.
Most shops tout their customer service experience as superior, and pricing continues to be a major part of the sales pitch. Green Star Cannabis owner Sam Calvert said he’s been able to offer some strains at $6 per gram, but has focused mostly on word-of-mouth and a prime location near downtown to attract new customers.
“We don’t talk bad about the industry,” Calvert said. “Our responsibility is to the customer. That’s what we do.”
Green Star sold about $50,000 worth of product in August, its first month of sales, and has leveled off at a monthly average of about $130,000 in sales since September. That’s good for about a 13 percent market share in Spokane County.
While the state has imposed regulations on advertising more stringent than most other industries, Calvert and others have begun to advertise on mainstream outlets in recent weeks, including billboards and radio.
Several county officials have hinted in recent weeks of their desire to cash in on excise taxes collected at every step in the marijuana retail process, from farm to processor to retailer. Spokane’s shops have brought in more than $950,000 in tax revenue since July, according to the Liquor Control Board, but that money currently is pooled at the state level and earmarked mostly for health programs and research into the long-term effects of marijuana use.
Spokane County Commissioner Al French said he’d like to see some of the money come back to the county for law enforcement.
Not everyone is on board with the foothold the legal marijuana industry has made in Spokane. Last month, a volunteer board of planning commissioners heard from about a dozen residents who live near growing operations in the county. The residents asked for a moratorium on approving new producer licenses by adopting more stringent zoning codes. The board will take up that issue during its regular monthly meeting Thursday, but no testimony will be heard.
Justin Peterson, owner of two stores called Cinder in Spokane Valley and on North Division Street, summed up the optimism from area retail shop owners.
“Our customer base is steadily increasing,” Peterson said last month. “We knew it would take awhile.”
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