Cannabis Chronicles BlogFeaturedThe Columbian / Associated Press

Pot now legal in Oregon; local shops reap benefit

Main Street Marijuana on a busy Wednesday night as customers celebrate the first day of legal possession in Oregon.
Main Street Marijuana on a busy Wednesday night as customers celebrate the first day of legal possession in Oregon.

When recreational marijuana possession became legal Wednesday in Oregon, Vancouver pot shops reaped the benefits, as Oregonians flocked across the border to get their fix.

Vancouver’s six pot shops saw far more foot traffic than usual Wednesday, a trend that has continued all week leading up to the landmark shift in Oregon’s law. And with recreational sales set to be sidelined in Oregon for at least three months or perhaps even more than another year, store owners in Vancouver are bracing for their biggest sales figures yet.

Since Washington’s first stores opened nearly a year ago, New Vansterdam has been the highest-grossing store in the state. This week, the Vancouver store already has seen some record-breaking sales figures, said Shon-Lueiss Harris, New Vansterdam’s spokesman.

“Monday was the biggest Monday we’ve had, and Tuesday was our biggest Tuesday,” Harris said.

A similar picture unfolded at Main Street Marijuana in Uptown Village, as customers packed the sales floor on their way home from work late Wednesday afternoon. Anticipating a flood of foot traffic from Portland, store owner Ramsey Hamide staffed several extra budtenders for the day.

“We’re absolutely embracing and excited for Oregon,” Hamide said. “It’s an exciting day to be in the marijuana industry, and to be playing a part in the end of prohibition.”

Since Washington’s sales went live last July, Oregonians have always made up a large portion of the local customer base. Embracing the out-of-state consumers has been huge for Vancouver’s pot shops, and legal possession in Oregon will only help, Hamide said.

Main Street posted its best sales month yet leading up to the historic day, Hamide said. The store led the state in sales for March through May. Though June sales figures for each store in the state aren’t available yet, Hamide is confident the trend held true last month and that it will continue through July.

“We continue to see acceleration in our overall revenue, and I think that we’ll see that again in July,” he said.

New Vansterdam on a busy Wednesday, as customers celebration legal possession in Oregon.
New Vansterdam on a busy Wednesday, as customers celebration legal possession in Oregon.

Main Street’s previous monthly sales record from May was about $1.752 million. Sales for June ended up being slightly higher, around $1.76 million, Hamide said.

Adding to the excitement was a massive shift in the industry’s tax structure, a change that Hamide believes will lead to a dramatic price drop at Washington pot shops over the next few months. As of Wednesday, growers and processors are no longer charged a 25 percent excise tax on their products, and retailers pay a higher 37 percent tax at the point of sale.

After a year in the new industry, growers are learning from their mistakes and making adjustments to packaging, handling and other procedures to save money, he said. Altogether, that and the new tax system will only help the prices fall, Hamide said.

“Here in the next month, you’re going to see some definite price reductions,” he said. “It’s really a perfect storm, and I’d say in the next three months we’re going to see prices come down anywhere from 25 to 50 percent.”

Each week, sales activity picks up throughout the industry as the weekend nears, and it consistently peaks on Fridays. Last Friday, the market reached a new pinnacle, selling more than $2.5 million worth of product in a single day, and the expectations couldn’t be higher for the upcoming Fourth of July weekend.

Monday and Tuesday are typically the slowest days of the week for New Vansterdam, said Harris. For those days, sales tend to finish in the $20,000 to $30,000 range. This week, the store did more than $47,000 in sales on Tuesday and about $42,000 the day before.

On a typical Thursday, New Vansterdam serves about 800 customers. As many as 900 to 1,000 typically make their way through the store on Fridays and Saturdays, New Vansterdam’s two best sales days of the week.

“Just from seeing the flow today, I would not be surprised if we’re closer to a Thursday kind of number,” Harris said Wednesday afternoon.

That trend was evident for Vancouver’s smaller pot shops, too, as each welcomed many Oregonians for the first time.

“We are pretty busy,” said Morgan Hutchinson, co-owner of High End Market Place. “And seeing lots of new faces from Oregon, people who haven’t bought legal yet.”

Oregon’s pot shops aren’t expected to open until late 2016, and the licensing process isn’t set to begin until January. A bill working its way through the Oregon Legislature proposes allowing the state’s first recreational marijuana sales to begin on Oct. 1 at medical dispensaries.

It would only be a temporary measure to plug the gap in available marijuana until Oregon’s stores open. For now, though, Vancouver is the closest place where Portlanders can find legal recreational marijuana. Under federal law, it’s still illegal to take pot across state lines, but Portland police have said they will not stop anyone as long as they don’t consume it in public.