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Will Seattle cannabis tourism take a hit if other states legalize weed?

This file photo shows packets of a variety of recreational marijuana named "Space Needle" during packaging operations. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Logan Bowers, owner of Seattle’s #Hashtag pot store, is as adamant about pot legalization as a person can be. Since pot became legal in Washington state in 2014, he’s enjoyed the societal — and financial – benefits of legal weed.

But he admits feeling a tad conflicted when he sees the growing number of marijuana legalization initiatives in the country. His heart soars but his wallet trembles.

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“All of us in the legal and regulated industry recognize that the war on drugs has failed and that legalization nationwide is the right thing,” Bowers said. “If it is legal in every state, tourism won’t be quite the draw.”

On this November’s ballot are nine legalization efforts in other states including California’s Proposition 64. Four more states have legalization measures for 2017 followed by another three in 2018.

Cannabis store owners across Seattle agree that pot tourism has become a big business in many of the city’s 56 cannabis stores, from tourists visiting Bower’s store on Stone Way to the cruise ship passengers congregating at Herban Legends on Bell Street.

Since July 1 of this year, the state has seen $500 million in pot sales with $95 million in taxes paid. In the two years that pot has been legal, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board has tracked $1.23 billion in marijuana sales with $345 million in state taxes — although officials say it is impossible to know how much of that revenue was tourist-based.

Pot store owners suspect the windfall is substantial.

“We definitely see tourists, especially in the summertime when the cruise ships are in port,” said Bowers, who is president of the Cannabis Organization of Retail Establishments (CORE). “At Hashtag in Fremont, we might see folks from 35 different states and 10 different countries in one night.”

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To Bowers and other retailers, the solution to a potential drop in tourism is two-fold: Keep Washington’s weed at a “destination” quality that is as respected as local beer, wine, and seafood. And secondly, push to change state law to allow Amsterdam-style smoking cafés as part of the retail industry.

He said the current law presents a quandary when an out-of-towner comes into his shop.

“They’ll buy a joint or buy a vape cartridge and they’ll say, ‘Oh where can I go to try this product?’ And we’ll say, ‘Well, nowhere.’”

This is what legalization 2.0 should look like, he said: A system of limited-use cafes to keep tourism strong and the neighborhoods happy. He said Colorado, for example, has “pot friendly” hotels so tourists are not smoking in parks and alleys.

“I think it makes the most sense for Seattle and Washington to have an Amsterdam model,” he said. “A place where people can go and purchase a small amount and consume on site.”

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About the Author

Mike Lewis

Mike Lewis is a reporter and a bar owner in Seattle. He's worked as an editor and reporter for Patch.com, the Seattle P-I, and McClatchy Newspapers. Email Mike at mlewis@kiroradio.com

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