Spokane County’s nine recreational marijuana stores all reported sales in December higher than the previous month, pushing the legal market above $1.2 million as it continues to grow and gain traction with lending agencies statewide.
The retail growth comes at a time when some planning officials and elected representatives are pushing to stanch the spread of the recreational and medicinal markets through moratoriums and other measures. In the midst of that climate, Steve Burks opened the area’s newest dispensary, Treehouse Club, at 14421 E. Trent Ave., in a renovated house.
“I wouldn’t say that I’m concerned with the moratorium,” Burks said, referring to an action by the Spokane Valley City Council last month that prohibited new pot businesses not licensed by the state’s Liquor Control Board. “It doesn’t really apply to us.”
Burks’ business, which opened Dec. 19, kicked in about $6,000 to the state’s total legal pot sales for last month, which totaled more than $11 million. Spokane’s shops were responsible for about a tenth of that total, with Sativa Sisters passing Spokane Green Leaf as the shop reporting the most sales during the month. That ended a five-month streak of Spokane’s first retail store leading the county in sales.
Forty cents of every dollar spent on legal weed in Spokane County in December went to those two stores, according to numbers from the Washington Liquor Control Board.
Sativa Sisters Manager Eric Skar said he thinks holiday shopping had a lot to do with the bump in sales at his shop and elsewhere.
“This is the first time anyone in Washington has been able to give ganja as a Christmas present,” Skar said, adding that many of the customers at the store said they were picking up stocking stuffers for friends and family.
Spokane retailers reported more than $308,000 in excise taxes last month, money that is pooled at the state level for a variety of earmarked programs including drug education for children and treatment programs. Several community advocates have voiced concerns that surveys of area students show the number of young people who believe marijuana is harmful has plummeted since voters legalized recreational marijuana by passing Initiative 502 in 2012.
A substantial majority of the tax money flowing into the state is coming from checking accounts, said Brian Smith, a spokesman with the Liquor Control Board. That indicates marijuana entrepreneurs are navigating the tricky area of banking with lenders wary of the cash crop’s status as a controlled substance under federal law, he said.
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” Smith said.
Numerica Credit Union in Spokane Valley was the first to offer accounts to marijuana businesses when the state began handing out licenses early last year, but executives limit accounts to only producers and processors, wishing to stay out of the retail market at the suggestion of the U.S. Justice Department. The credit union also said it would cap deposits into I-502 accounts at 5 percent of the company’s total deposits.
Kelli Hawkins, a Numerica spokeswoman, confirmed that the credit union has opened accounts with several area producers and processors but declined to give exact numbers, citing the ongoing uncertainty about federal enforcement.
Treehouse Club owner Burks said he’s enjoying seeing the business idea he hatched with his mom and stepdad come to life on Trent Avenue, where the new shop will compete with nearby Sativa Sisters and Greenlight Spokane. Treehouse is the closest retail shop to the Idaho border, but Burks said he hadn’t heard much concern about law enforcement scrutinizing the location.
“Our customers know the rules; you can’t bring it across the border,” Burks said.
Burks and his parents, home renovators by trade, put in several 14-hour days to get the dispensary open before the new year, he said. They moved into the property on Halloween and gave the business its forest-inspired decor. Tree branches complete the look, which Burks said gives the illusion a tree is growing up through the floor.
“People say don’t mix business with family, but so far it’s been great,” Burks said.
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