Week in Review: Showtime for Rec in Oregon, Milestone in Maryland & Patient Spike in Nevada

By John Schroyer

Recreational marijuana sales begin in Oregon, Maryland starts taking applications for medical cannabis business licenses, and Nevada sees a major uptick in patient numbers.

Here’s a closer look at several notable developments in the marijuana industry over the past week.

And Then There Were Three

Oregon has officially joined Colorado and Washington State in the club of markets with legal adult-use cannabis sales.

Many dispensaries opened at 12:01 a.m. Thursday to lines of customers waiting to purchase recreational marijuana. Others stuck to their normal schedules and didn’t open until mid-morning but were still greeted by a rush of customers nonetheless.

“It seems like we’ve been nonstop busy, and it’s only been two hours,” Adrienne Garcia, managing partner of the Portland dispensary Pakalolo PDX, said Thursday morning. “This is way more than we see on a daily basis.”

Pakalolo, which opened at 10 a.m., served at least 50 recreational customers by noon. Most bought either eighths or quarter ounces (the latter being the most an individual consumer can purchase by law).

Garcia said she doesn’t expect to run out of inventory anytime soon, which is what happened at multiple shops in Colorado and Washington in the early weeks of recreational sales. But she’s still unclear how overall demand will shake out.

Matt Walstatter, owner of Portland’s Pure Green Dispensary, said late Thursday that it had been “a fantastic day.”

“We have already seen well over 200 customers, which is the most we have ever seen in a day by a good bit. A typical Thursday before rec would have been about 50-60 people,” Walstatter said.

Walstatter did double his staff in preparation for the big day and added two extra registers, which he said helped keep customers moving through the shop. But he, like Garcia, is uncertain whether the volume of customers will continue or ebb after the initial novelty of rec sales wears off.

Maryland Licensing Begins

The next wave of the green rush is washing ashore.

Maryland, which is poised to become a major medical cannabis market, has formally begun the licensing process.

The state issued its formal application formats for businesses this week, giving hopeful entrepreneurs a look at exactly what they need to do to win a license.

Under the law, officials will license up to 109 dispensaries, 15 cultivators and an unknown number of manufacturers.

There’s a good chance an avalanche of entrepreneurs in other markets with major funding will target Maryland, in large part because there’s no restrictions on out-of-state ownership in MMJ businesses.

“I think there are going to be a lot of applicants,” said Carissa Cartalemi, who plans on applying for a dispensary licenses and is chair of Baltimore’s Women Grow chapter. “We’re hearing more and more out of state applicants coming in, calling realtors, trying to find spaces and land, just as of yesterday.”

Applications aren’t due until Nov. 6, and it’s likely that many – including Cartalemi – won’t turn theirs in until the last minute so they can spend as much time polishing their applications in an effort to stand out.

“We probably will take as long as we have, because we want to make sure we want to go above and beyond,” Cartalemi said.

The rest of the timeline is a bit hazy. The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission said in a statement that it expects to issue pre-approval for licenses in January, but businesses chosen will then have another calendar year to comply with final regulations before they open.

If You Build It, They Will Come

Nevada has seen a major upswing in its medical cannabis customer base this year, with an increase of roughly 25% between the start of 2015 and the end of August.

That’s exactly the kind of thing MMJ businesses hope to see in new markets.

There’s been anxiety in states such as Illinois and Minnesota, where patient counts are much lower than expected. But Nevada’s experience shows that a big spike is possible after sales begin (the first dispensaries in the state have opened over the past two months).

The physical availability of MMJ is almost certainly correlated to the increase in patient registrations, as there have been similar trends in other MMJ states. That is, as soon as product is actually available, patient numbers go up.

That will be something to watch in future upcoming markets, including Maryland, Hawaii and New York.

It’s also certainly exactly what other business owners in Nevada want to see, since the vast majority of dispensaries haven’t opened yet. But the increase in numbers, along with the likely boost in MMJ tourism the state will get thanks to its reciprocity provision, foreshadows a bright future for the new market.

John Schroyer can be reached at johns@mjbizmedia.com