WALLA WALLA — The state’s nascent recreational marijuana industry appears to have passed a milestone last week.
The square footage for licensed grow operations went past the 1 million mark, according to information from the Washington state Liquor Control Board. That figure is halfway toward meeting the board’s goal to have 2 million square feet of pot growing for eventual sale at state-licensed retail stores.
Retails sales of marijuana began earlier this month, and the relatively few stores in the state so far with licenses operate have been dealing with shortages of product.
The list of active growers’ licenses posted on the liquor control board’s website Tuesday showed 23 tier 1 growers, 52 tier 2 growers and 29 tier 3 growers. The total production area for all 105 licenses adds up to 1,012,200 square feet if all growers plant to their maximum allowed limit.
According to the list, 27 counties in Washington state now have licensed grow operations. Spokane County has the largest number with 17 licensed producers and Okanogan County is second with 10 licensed grow operations.
Walla Walla County has one licensed grow facility, Copperhead Farm, located in Prescott.
Brian Smith, liquor control board spokesman, agreed that while the halfway mark appears to be in sight, some caveats need to be added.
“Yes, we are approaching the 1 million square feet of canopy ... However, the producers will only be harvesting a portion, typically a third of their canopy. In other words, we are doing a rolling rollout of marijuana. Many factors play into that: a growing market, limited harvest, businesses will fail as competition increases, etc.”
The 2 million square feet of growing area is expected to generate 40 metric tons (88,000 pounds) of marijuana, an amount liquor board consultants say is needed to capture 13-25 percent of the marijuana market in Washington in the first year of legal production.
A study released last December by a RAND Corp. team estimated there are 750,000 marijuana users in Washington state who will have consumed between 135 to 225 metric tons of marijuana in 2013. The board initially worked with a figure of 165 metric tons as the median amount for total consumption, but the consultants later upped that number to 175 metric tons, Smith said.
Most of the producers have also applied for and have been granted processor licenses that will allow them to prepare and package marijuana for sale.
The number of people wanting licenses to grow recreational pot has far outstripped the number of producers who will be needed to reach the 2 million square foot cap. When the window for marijuana license requests closed on Dec. 30, the liquor control board had received 2,858 applications seeking more than 35 million square feet of canopy space.