Shortages, high prices predicted in state's retail pot market

SEATTLE -- The first recreational marijuana stores are set to open statewide, but already there are signs of a pot shortage -- which could mean soaring prices.

Only two labs are certified to test recreational weed, and passing inspection is a must before the pot can be sold at retail stores. Washington has 79 licensed growers but very few have sent the two labs any samples.

"As of right now it looks like there definitely could be a shortage," said Ed Stremlow, who runs Analytical 360, one of the two certified testing facilities.

Of the licensed growers, Stremlow said only five have sent him samples though that is beginning to change.

"We are starting to see stuff roll in," he said. "We already have had twice as many samples come in this week than we had last week."

Once Analytical 360 receives the product, technicians test it for potency and the presence of any molds or disease. Stremlow said most samples are high quality, but because there is so little product initial prices could by sky-high.

"I think it really depends on the response from the consumers. If we have lines around the block, there will probably be a shortage," Stremlow said.

Add to that the heavy taxes, and some predict recreational marijuana initially will sell for $25 a gram or more. That compares to $10 or $15 a gram on the street.

"To complete with the black market, or even the medical market, those prices are going to have to come down," he said.

The state Liquor Control Board plans to issue 20 retail licenses on Monday, and stores can open 24 hours later. Seattle will likely only see one approved applicant at the outset, but Vancouver and the south Puget Sound area could see far more legal weed operations ready in the first week.

"The industry is moving forward regardless of what happens on July 8. If no stores open July 8, it's still going to move forward. If the shelves are low, it's still going to move forward," Stremlow said.

Reasons for the predicted shortages range from growers getting late starts because of the long licensing process, to applicants not being ready for state inspections.