Legal cannabis in Washington turns 10 - What challenges lie ahead?

When a couple of hundred enthusiasts and activists gathered at the Space Needle 10 years ago to celebrate Washington’s decriminalization of cannabis (and flout the law prohibiting public consumption), there was underlying anxiety over whether the federal government was going to come and shut everything down.

Today, with 21 states and counting allowing the possession and sale of cannabis to adults, industry attention has shifted to the real possibility that the walls built around Washington’s market could soon come tumbling down with federal legalization.

“We are at the 10-year anniversary, and I thought, coming up to this, we were at a juncture,” said David Postman, chair of the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Board, in an interview last month. “What does the future of cannabis look like?”

The Liquor Cannabis Board, itself renamed as part of its authority expanding to cover the industry, oversees a market that has reported retail sales exceeding $1 billion in each of the past four years. An explosion of sales during the COVID-19 pandemic has raised more than $500 million in each of the past two years for Washington state. Department of Revenue statistics show cannabis has become a larger source of state revenue than alcohol and tobacco as sources of “sin tax” revenue over the past five years, raising more than $2 billion for the state even before local sales taxes are calculated.

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