Photo by Shane Harms
Organic cannabis priced at under $200 an ounce at Conscious Care Cooperative.

The cost of cannabis: Where are Ballardites buying their herb?

Even after the state recreational cannabis stores have opened there is still a salad of options for individuals looking to buy pot.

After the new recreational pot shop, Cannabis City, opened in SODO in early July, users were alarmed with the price. Also the lag in rate the stores are opening is leaving users on the north end aching for something closer.

At $20 a gram, state cannabis is twice the market rate for medical cannabis, and almost three times as much for street prices – four times if you have a “friend.”

So who’s buying the state bud? On the first day Cannabis City sold out of over 10 pounds.

State weed

The Ballard News-Tribune talked to tokers on Ballard Avenue during the evening hours over the weekend. Six users were found smoking a cannabis product. Most parties surveyed were under forty and said they buy from the same person they have always: their “guy.” Indeed, more times than not, surveyed smokers bought street weed. Surprisingly, the most popular method to get high was not with cannabis at all, but rather, oil or wax: a concentrate of cannabis made with a solvent. State stores cannot offer concentrates, so many of the users of the oil were medical patients or acquired their concentrate from the “black market.” Not a single person out of the six surveyed admitted to buying from the State store. The cost was a major factor.

Looking to Colorado for trends in prices, January saw a handful of recreational stores open in Denver. Stores were charging $500 or more for one-ounce of grass. Now with at least 75 stores open in Denver the price has dropped close to medical cannabis rates at around $200 an ounce.

Like in Colorado, as more stores open, a healthy competition between stores is expected to bring prices down. However, even if the price come down, the pot still has a three time tax (grower to processor to retailer to consumer) amounting to 75 percent taxed weed, leaving a small margin for store owners.

Cannabis medical patients already have their source, so how are non-patients getting their ganga if they are not buying from the state? Aside from "their guy," smokers have other options. There have been reports of delivery services operating under the guise of “medical,” selling to anyone over 21.

Winterlife, a known illegal cannabis delivery service, was one of these companies. They announced last month that they would only be selling to medical cannabis patients after openly selling to people over 21 for over six months. Since then other small time operations willing to take the risk are filling the void. There have been reports that even brick and mortar medical collectives have loosened their exclusivity of sale.

Brad Palma, manager of Conscious Care Cooperative in Ballard, says that there hasn’t been a change in the number of patient-customers he sees, however he said that most of his patients are older and have chronic conditions. Fewer younger people are coming into the shop in Ballard.

Moreover, Brad believes that the over 200 pesticides, herbicides and fungicides approved for use have some users skittish about buying state pot, especially the patients with lung, weakened immune systems and liver problems.

“With recreational coming out and the state knowing we have more affordable cannabis available, though only for patients. I'm concerned that medicinal cannabis dispensaries and cooperatives could be shut down in the future so that recreational will thrive. If this happens, I fear for our patients who cannot afford the very expensive, inorganic and pesticide allowed cannabis at recreational shops.They will just be left with no meds, buying illegally from the streets aka the "black market" or worse, go back to pharmaceuticals, ” said Palma.

Over 249 Compounds have been approved to treat state cannabis, ranging from herb oils to heavier grade substances like Piperonyl butoxide (PBO).

PBO is a synergist. That is, it enhances the strength of other pesticides. The State has authorized its use as a “Fruit Tree and Shrub spray” at 2.5 percent concentration. PBO was once on the EPA’s "possibly carcinogenic to humans,” list but has since been declared to have no identifiable negative affects on humans. However, PBO did caused an increase in liver tumors in mice that ingested high levels of PBO in the diet for a long period of time.

“This is why we have to get a good medical system in place. 195 of the 200 should never be allowed near a human body. They have taken the national standards for botanical herds and watered it down ten times,” said Dawn Darrington, who owns a organic only collective and authorization clinic, Choice Wellness Center. Darrington has been working closely with State legislators to keep medical cannabis rights.

Darrington said that since the recreational store opened there has been a decline in younger people with mild conditions using medical authorization to gain access to cannabis, meaning less patent abuse and fraudulent attempts.

The future of medical cannabis is in the hands of legislators next session. If phased out there will be fewer options for citizens to buy cannabis and fewer for organic varieties.

“If medical facilities decease in the future and recreational shops keep high prices then I'm concerned a black market will be reborn for cannabis. I hope in the future we can coexist like we are right now. I hope the people of Washington will vote to keep medical cannabis around,” said Palma.

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