'We've waited a long time:' Sacramento customers purchase recreational marijuana legally for the first time
In the first two months of cannabis legalization, consumers bought an estimated $339 million worth of marijuana products from retailers in California, 13 percent less than state projections, according to a leading analytics firm.
The state has estimated that retail cannabis sales for the remaining six months of this fiscal year would be $1.15 billion, or $383 million every two months.
BDS Analytics of Boulder, Colorado, provided the firm's data to The Bee. Greg Shoenfeld, vice president for operations, said the company collects sales data from dispensaries and uses statistical modeling to project statewide sales. BDS Analytics also collects and analyzes such data in the three other states with recreational marijuana: Oregon, Washington and Colorado.
While this year's California figures seem to support industry concerns about cannabis taxes and regulations, Shoenfeld said there are some important caveats to the data.
One issue: State and local governments are continuing to license more retail marijuana stores and sales will go up as a result. Another qualifier: Cannabis sales go up significantly in March in other states with legalized sales, perhaps because of warmer weather, Shoenfeld said.
"I'm not overly concerned at this point," he said.
The state has yet to report sales figures from the adult-use market that started Jan. 1. The state Department of Tax and Fee Administration expects to report on sales from the first quarter in mid-May, said spokesman Paul Cambra.
Alex Traverso, spokesman for the state Bureau of Cannabis Control, declined to comment on the BDS revenue estimates, saying the agency is waiting for the official state report on revenues.
The low sales figures come as the cannabis industry has been complaining about how high taxes and local-government bans are driving consumers to the black and gray markets.
"Sales are happening but they're not happening in the regulated market," said Kristi Knoblich, board president of the California Cannabis Industry Association and co-founder of Kiva Confections, a manufacturer of edible cannabis products.
Black and gray market sales are available to anyone with an internet connection. Many unlicensed cannabis retailers advertise on Weedmaps, an Irvine-based company that's been called the Yelp of weed.
In February, more than 6,000 dispensaries and delivery services in California were listed on Weedmaps. By contrast, the state had licensed 580 dispensary and delivery companies at that time.
The state Bureau of Cannabis Control has sent letters to about 1,000 unlicensed cannabis companies, ordering them to obtain licenses or stop sales. It also has notified Weedmaps that it needs to stop advertising unlicensed businesses, but Weedmaps has said the state lacks the legal authority to force a nonlicensed technology company to comply.
Taxes have been a concern for cannabis companies for a long time. While some of the taxes were clearly spelled out in the law that legalized recreational marijuana, local taxes are left up to the communities, contributing to overall rates as high as 45 percent.
Cannabis retailers also are prevented from entering the market in many cities and unincorporated areas because of local control, which gives local government the authority to ban sales. Southern California News Group and other Digital First Media newspapers recently found that less than one-third of California cities allow retail sales. Likewise, only 18 of 58 counties allow sales in unincorporated areas.