Researchers: Washington state consumes a lot of pot

SEATTLE -- As a state, Washington apparently smokes a lot of pot.

That's what new research is telling us, as the Washington State Liquor Control Board figures out how much legalized marijuana needs to be produced and sold in retail stores.

Even the researchers from the nonprofit think-tank Rand Corporation, commissioned by the state to figure out how much cannabis people consume, were surprised at the numbers.

"The number of users, that was pretty well-understood," said Rand's Jonathon Caulkin. "But the amount that each user consumes is higher then has previously been thought."

Researchers found that users in Washington consumed around 175 metric tons of marijuana in 2013, more than double what the state estimated before pot was legalized.

The Liquor Control Board, which is in charge of regulating legal pot, said its numbers were much closer to what researchers found.

"We're in the ball park there," Liquor Control Board spokesman Brian Smith said. "So nothing immediately needs to be done with our rules or anything along those lines."

Knowing how much pot is smoked is critical. If the state grows too much, it could lead to more pot being smuggled out of state. If the state grows too little, it could put more money in criminals' pockets.

"The Department of Justice was very clear," said Smith. "The product will not be diverted out of state and it's not going to fall into the hands of kids and other places in the illicit market."

Dante Jones, a consultant for pot entrepreneurs, expressed some concern at one of the other major points in the research. Three counties -- King, Pierce and Snohomish -- consume half of the state's marijuana. He said he believes the state will need a lot more stores, especially in the Seattle area, where only 21 will be allowed under current rules.

"I understand how the Liquor Control Board spread it around the state, and for that we're happy that all corners of the state have access, but at the same time there is a large population in and around this area, and we need the stores able to support that."

The state says that could change down the line. Right now, it only expects to capture 25 percent of the marijuana market in the first year.