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Politics & Policy

Washington State Residents Smoke Twice as Much Weed as Previously Thought

How many people get high in Washington State? A lot more than state officials realized. The RAND Corp. released a report today estimating that the state’s pot consumption in 2013 was somewhere around 175 metric tons, twice as high as previously thought. The think tank conducted the study for the Washington State Liquor Control Board, which is getting ready for legal marijuana sales in 2014.

The state’s Office of Financial Management had previously projected that pot consumption in Washington would be 85 metric tons this year, according to RAND. To get the new number, RAND conducted an online survey of pot users in the state and also analyzed the federal National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The Web poll included photos of marijuana to help users accurately disclose the amount they consume.

It’s important for the State Liquor Control Board to have accurate information about how many tons of weed the state’s citizens are blazing. The board is trying to figure out how many marijuana sales licenses to give out, along with estimating what the potential tax revenues will be from this new, untested market.

State regulators already have a lot on their hands. Last month, the New Yorker published a fascinating story by Patrick Radden Keefe detailing the challenges that Washington faces. He notes that state officials aren’t simply worried about licensing marijuana dealers—they also have to figure out what to do about the pot purveyors who continue to sell weed outside of the government-sponsored system. If the outlaws undercut the state sanctioned dealers, he writes, the new system could go up in smoke, along with the tax dollars that Washington hopes to collect from the legal weed trade.

This much is certain: Washingtonians have a voracious appetite for marijuana. They either constitute a healthy customer base for a government-regulated pot market or they could just continue to patronize the existing black market. It makes you wonder why it took so long for state officials to find out that so many stoners were in their midst. Maybe the bureaucrats have been sneaking a joint on their lunch break like other Washingtonians?

Leonard is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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