Legal Marijuana: Comparing Washington and Colorado

As of today, recreational marijuana stores will open their doors in Washington state, making it the second state—after Colorado—to provide its citizens with a state-legal option for purchasing the still-very-much-federally-illegal drug. In doing so, Washington begins to deliver on the promise of Initiative 502, passed by Washington voters in November 2012, to create a well-regulated, tightly-controlled system of legal pot in the state.

Building its system of licensing and regulation, under the supervision of the state’s Liquor Control Board, has been slow going for Washington, at least compared to Colorado. Licensing processes for growers, processers, and retailers have been slower than hoped for and plagued by some controversial choices. As a result, today’s openings in Washington will be far more limited than Colorado experienced back in January; just a handful of stores will have licenses (just one in Seattle, where demand is highest), and the legal supply available to them to sell will be extremely limited for now, making prices much higher than the black market initially.

Marijuana Table updated 8

With both Colorado and Washington now in the legal weed business, comparisons between the two states come naturally. (We should also be keeping an eye on Uruguay, which is developing the first national legalization effort anywhere in the world and is just now licensing the first legal cultivation.) We provide the chart above to facilitate those comparisons, while also making sure that people realize the many apples-to-oranges aspects. Most notably, Colorado began a serious effort to regulate its medical marijuana system several years before approving legalization and has chosen to build on that existing system, privileging incumbent retailers. That is a stark contrast to Washington, where regulation of an extensive medical marijuana system never got off the ground, and which is consequently building its recreational system from the ground up. Washington also ultimately aims to achieve tighter control of legal marijuana, prohibiting home grows and manipulating supply to ensure desirable prices.

The chart was updated on July 10, 2014, to reflect a number of clarifications and minor corrections for Washington.