By Sue Vorenberg
Cannabis Daily Record
Big changes are about to transform the cannabis market along the Oregon-Washington border.
On Thursday, October 1, 2015, Oregon will legalize limited recreational cannabis sales from medical marijuana dispensaries as part of its early start program. The program will let medical dispensaries sell up to a quarter ounce of marijuana buds a day to recreational customers.
The program is a stop-gap measure until Oregon’s recreational market can be fully set up. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission plans to start taking recreational license applications in October, 2016.
What’s intriguing about this is what will happen to the cannabis markets in Vancouver, Washington and Portland, Oregon as a result.
The two cities, which border each other, are closely tied to one another economically and socially.
When Washington launched its first recreational cannabis sales in July, 2014, Vancouver stores benefitted from being the only legal option for Portland recreational consumers (who, granted, can’t legally bring cannabis back across the border to Oregon – but that hasn’t stopped them).
In fact, two of the three largest stores in Washington – New Vansterdam and Main Street Marijuana – are located in Vancouver. As are a cluster of other recreational shops including The Herbery, High End Market Place, Greenhead Cannabis and the Cannabis Country Store in Battle Ground, Washington.
When Oregon’s early start program launches next week, Vancouver’s dominance in Washington’s recreational market is likely to change.
But how much it will change remains an open question.
Most stores expect at least part of their cannabis flower sales to head south across the border. But because Washington’s market is more advanced, there are still a host of products that Oregon consumers won’t be able to get unless they travel to Washington.
For instance, many Washington stores – including the Vancouver stores – offer a variety of edibles, strain specific vape cartridges, waxes and other concentrates that won’t be legal for purchase in Oregon until the state’s fully licensed recreational market is in place next year.
And prices for flower have been dropping at Vancouver border shops to the point where there are $10 grams available (after taxes) at almost every store – which is easily comparable to the range of prices at Portland’s medical dispensaries, which at several stores range on the low end from $8 to $12 a gram.
That said, though, Oregon – especially Portland – is well-known as a Mecca for high quality cannabis. And I think residents in Vancouver and other border cities will probably head to Portland to check out what the new Oregon recreational market has to offer.
It’s also likely that many Portland residents will start to buy their flower from Portland dispensaries rather than traveling to Washington to make a purchase – although many will still make the trip to get vapes and other items.
But that’s not the full story – there’s a tourism aspect that may benefit stores on both sides of the border.
As the new Oregon market evolves, visitors to Portland and Vancouver will have a unique opportunity to buy and try the best cannabis products in both states without traveling far. Stores in both cities are within about a 15-minute drive from one another.
And the gourmet consumer market – with consumers seeking strain and product variety, tours and other experiences – is sure to benefit from that on both sides of the Columbia River.
So where will the market end up?
That’s anybody’s guess right now.
Personally I think Vancouver’s bigger stores are likely to see sales drop somewhat – and it’s likely that Uncle Ike’s in Seattle will eventually claim the top spot for sales among Washington stores.
But I don’t think it’s going to be all gloom and doom for Vancouver. I think people from both cities – not to mention tourists – will keep checking out stores in both Portland and Vancouver.
And another thing that will help Vancouver stores is that the state Liquor and Cannabis Commission has announced it will start issuing medical marijuana endorsements for recreational shops – along with launching a new application window for potential stores.
Most if not all of Vancouver’s shops hope to get those designations – and that will bring a new array of customers that will help to offset sales losses to Portland.
I suspect it will take at least a few months to see how both markets are impacted. And it will be fascinating to see how everything develops.
It makes the Vancouver-Portland border one of, if not the, most fascinating cannabis market area in the country to watch.
What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!
Sue Vorenberg is the founder of Cannabis Daily Record. She has 20 years of experience as a journalist covering a wide array of topics, including cannabis legalization and consumer markets. She also founded The Columbian’s Cannabis Chronicles blog and spent about three months working in the industry. You can reach her at email@example.com