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What’s next for Washington’s new legal pot industry?

Bob Leeds, owner of Sea of Green Farms, pours packets of recreational marijuana into boxes at his business in Seattle for delivery to a store in Bellingham, Wash. It was the first delivery for the company since retail licenses were issued by the state on Monday, July 7. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Tuesday’s opening of Washington’s first legal marijuana stores is being hailed as a success, even though just a handful across the state were able to begin operation. But there’s still plenty of work ahead to get the recreational system fully up and running.

The Washington state Liquor Control Board issued just 25 retailer licenses Monday. Spokesman Mikail Carpenter says many would-be retailers have yet to meet all of the conditions necessary to qualify for a license. Although the board has authorized up to 334 retail stores statewide, it’s unlikely that many will open.

“Moving forward we will issue retail licenses as people finish them,” he says. “But I don’t think we’ll get to that actual amount because there are places with bans and moratoria that may or may not be lifted sometime soon. There are also places where people did not apply for licenses.”

The biggest issue facing the nascent industry as it launched this week is supply. The state had issued just 90 licenses to producers and processors, with many more awaiting approval as regulators subject each applicant to a stringent review.

Carpenter says the state is working as quickly as possible to process the pending applications, but it’s slow and laborious given the complexities of the regulations that cover everything from finances to criminal backgrounds to location.

Grower Bob Leeds with Seattle’s Sea of Greens Farms was one of the first to deliver marijuana to retailers Tuesday. He predicts the supply will continue to fall far short for some time to come.

“I think in the beginning it’s going to be way off. I think there’s way more demand than there is product,” says Leeds.

Leeds says he’s already turned away a number of retailers, having contracted to sell all of his first 40-pound harvest months before the first stores opened.

If shortages continue long term or other problems emerge, the board can adjust some rules. Regulators can increase the amount of marijuana allowed to be grown or authorize additional licenses. But Carpenter says the focus for the time being is getting the system fully operational before even considering any changes.

“We’re going to go ahead and get all the licenses that were applied for issued and then assess the market before we look to open anything else back up.”

While many questions remain, Leeds says all indications are the industry is poised to be a massive success, perhaps just not as quickly as some have predicted.

“I think there’ll be as many stores as there are Starbucks,” he tells KIRO Radio’s Ron and Don Show.

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