Business

Whatcom’s 1st cannabis store opened 5 years ago. Here’s how the stores are doing now

Licensed cannabis retail stores haven’t been in Whatcom County long, but they are making an impact on the local economy.

This week marks the five-year anniversary of stores opening in Washington state. With its Hannegan Road location, Top Shelf Cannabis was the first store in the state to open on July 8, 2014, followed by other stores later that week. According to the website 502data.com, Whatcom County now has 26 stores and 79 producers.

More stores has meant a significant increase in sales. In the first year, Whatcom County generated $3 million in retail, processor and producer marijuana sales. By 2017 sales grew to $56 million, according to 502data.com. That’s more than the 2017 total for auto parts and tire sales in Whatcom County, according to data provided by the Washington State Department of Revenue.

Those cannabis sales have generated plenty of tax revenue. According to the state treasurer’s office, Washington collected $319 million in marijuana taxes and license fees in fiscal year 2017. That’s $113 million more than was collected from spirits, beer and wine, according to a report from the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Control Board. About half of the taxes and fees collected went to basic health care services, while 31% percent went into the general fund in 2017.

The demographic change is the biggest difference compared to five years ago, said Aaron Nelson, vice president at 2020 Solutions, in an interview with The Bellingham Herald. With three pot stores, 2020 is the largest cannabis retailer in Whatcom County.

When stores first opened, most of the customers were men between 21-30 years old. Now the demographic is 21-81, with more women making purchases, Nelson said. Retirees, in particular, are a fast-growing segment, he said.

The types of purchases have also changed over the years with the rise of electronic cigarettes. Nelson said five years ago, 77% percent of their sales was the flower to make a joint; today it is 49%. Concentrate, which can be used in e-cigarettes, now represents 36% of 2020’s sales, up from 7% of sales five years ago. With more legal supply and increased competition, prices have also gone down, he said.

While recreation sales are legal in Washington state, it still goes against federal law. Nelson expects that it might be a while before federal laws change, but he’s seen changes in terms of community acceptance. That includes the arrival of Bellingham Budfest, which will be held from noon-9:30 p.m. on July 14 at Zuanich Point Park. Bellingham Budfest will have educational tables, food and art vendors as well as live music.

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Dave Gallagher has covered the Whatcom County business community since 1998. Retail, real estate, jobs and port redevelopment are among the topics he covers.
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