SEATTLE (AP) — Figuring out how much marijuana people use has been one of the trickiest, and most important, questions facing the bureaucrats who are setting up Washington state’s new legal pot system.
Underestimate demand, and marijuana fans might stick with their black market dealers. Overestimate it, and the surplus legal production could wind up being diverted out of state, or to kids.
Now, researchers working with the state’s official pot consultant think they have their best look yet at cannabis consumption in Washington — aided by a novel survey aimed at figuring out how much the heaviest users of marijuana burn on a typical day. In a study released Wednesday, a RAND Corp. team figured that Washington’s roughly 750,000 marijuana users will have consumed between 135 and 225 metric tons of the drug in 2013.
The median figure they came up with is 175 metric tons. That’s more than 6 million ounces, enough for around 340 million joints, and more than twice what the state estimated before voters approved Washington’s legal weed law last year.
But officials have been aware since June that RAND’s researchers were headed toward the higher number, and they say the new study won’t require any sudden changes to the rollout of the state system.
“That’s the ballpark of what we’re looking at with our system,” said Brian Smith, a spokesman for the state Liquor Control Board, the agency charged with regulating marijuana in Washington.
Washington and Colorado legalized the possession of marijuana by adults over 21 last year, and both states are setting up systems of state-licensed growers, processors and retail stores where taxed pot will be available. Sales are expected to begin Jan. 1 in Colorado, while Washington isn’t expected to have stores open until late spring. The U.S. Justice Department is allowing the experiments to proceed as long as the states keep pot away from the black market and children, and meet other federal law enforcement priorities.
In Washington, officials are not hoping to capture the entire marijuana market in the first year of legal recreational sales. Instead, they’re looking at having state-licensed growers produce 80 metric tons of marijuana, half for use as traditional dried buds and half for use in producing marijuana-infused products.