Study Shows Most WA Cannabis Consumers Purchase Products at Retail Stores

International study provides new insights into Washington’s cannabis system

OLYMPIA, WA: --  A recent independent study shows Washington leads the nation in cannabis consumers buying from regulated retail outlets rather than the illicit market. The report, the International Cannabis Policy Study (ICPS) -- Washington State Report, was produced by the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. The study is a multi-year, cross-sectional survey conducted annually in the United States and Canada to examine trends in cannabis use.

According to the ICPS, in 2021, 77%* of survey participants from Washington State indicated they purchased from a legal (retail) source, compared to 44% for the United States overall and 57% for “U.S. legal” states. They further indicated that, on average, 90% of the products they purchased were from a retail store.

“We are often asked about the impact Washington’s regulated marketplace has had on the illicit market,” said Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) Director Rick Garza. “This study is the first one that we are aware of that shows the degree to which Washington consumers choose licensed cannabis retail stores over illegal sources. It shows that the legal market we have is working largely as it should. This is a testament to state voters who approved the initiative 10 years ago, and the fact that since our political leadership including the governor and legislators, the LCB and the industry have worked to follow the will of the voters and create a safe, well regulated system.”

The ICPS also provided insight into several aspects of Washington’s system.

  • Products: Washington consumers are smoking flower less than in previous years and consuming other products more. Smoking “useable flower” peaked in 2020 while most other products such as edibles, oils, and drinks increased in 2021.
  • Price: The average price per gram is consistently lower in states where cannabis is legal than in illegal markets. In 2021, the average legal cost per gram in Washington was $6.51 compared to $13.58 from illegal sources.

“When Washington’s first LCB-regulated retail stores opened in July 2014, the price was considerably higher than the illicit market because legal demand exceeded legal supply,” continued Garza. “We knew then that if the total price dropped to below $12 per gram that the regulated retail market would be able to compete with the illicit market. As more stores opened, the price steadily fell month-over-month until it stabilized in the last five years.”

  • Perceptions: Despite the lower prices in retail stores, approximately one in three Washington consumers perceive retail prices to be more expensive than illegal sources. Most Washington consumers perceive legal cannabis to be higher quality and safer than the illegal market.
  • Synthetically-Derived THC Products: Consumers are aware of synthetically-derived THC products which are derived from hemp, such Delta 8, even if there is confusion about what it is. These products are prohibited in Washington’s regulated cannabis marketplace as well as LCB-licensed alcohol, tobacco and vape outlets. However, these products are available online and elsewhere leading the CDC and FDA in 2021 to issue warnings about these unregulated products and their easy access by minors.

10-Year Anniversary of I-502 Discussion Series
As part of the LCB recognizing the 10-year anniversary of the passage by voters of Initiative 502, the LCB Board led a discussion with ICPS author Dr. David Hammond and Dr. Julia Dilley, a Senior Research Scientist and Epidemiologist with Multnomah County Health Department and the Oregon Health Authority. The discussion is available on TVW here.

On. Nov. 1, the Board held a discussion with I-502 author Alison Holcomb. That interview is available here. On Nov. 15, the Board will host a business panel to discuss current issues facing the industry. That discussion will be available on TVW here. Each discussion is at 10:00 a.m.

*The study includes a significant number of minors who are prohibited from purchasing from a retail store.



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