SEATTLE - Randy Oliver has a pressing question as legal marijuana sales are about to begin in Washington state: Where's all the weed?
Oliver is the chief scientist at Analytical 360 in Yakima, the only lab that has been certified to test the heavily taxed marijuana that will wind up on store shelves next month. So far, just two licensed growers have turned in samples for testing, with another due to turn in a small batch next week, he told The Associated Press on Saturday.
"There's such a small stream of samples coming through," he said. "There's going to be some long lines and some high prices."
The state's Liquor Control Board has been warning of shortages when the first stores open. The board plans to issue the first 15 to 20 retail licenses July 7, with shops allowed to open the next day if they're ready. It's not clear how many that will be. Board staff said at a meeting last week that only one store in Seattle is ready for its final inspection.
Only 79 of the more than 2,600 people who applied for marijuana growing licenses last fall have been approved, and many of them aren't ready to harvest.
"Will there be shortages?" Randy Simmons, the board's legal-pot project manager, said in a recent AP interview. "The answer to that is yes."
But the figures provided by Oliver on Saturday suggest just how serious those shortages could be. The samples provided to Analytical 360 represent a maximum harvest so far of 190 pounds -- and Oliver said he expects 20 to 30 percent of the samples to fail because of high mold counts. Marijuana associated with those samples can't be sold as dried bud, but can be used to make cannabis oil.
The amount harvested so far "isn't going to stay on the shelves very long," Oliver said.
Oliver said he's worried that his lab could see a crush of samples provided in the days before the first stores open, swamping his lab and delaying the arrival of product on store shelves.
"We can probably handle 100 samples a day, but if we get 300 samples thrown at us?" he said. "I'm worried about everybody coming to us at the last minute."
Growers have to provide samples for every strain of cannabis they grow, and for every five pounds of flowers they harvest.
Oliver also said glitches with the software the state is using to track the bar-coded marijuana from clone to sale could compound the issue. He said his lab has had trouble entering test results in the program, and some marijuana that passed has shown up as having failed. It took one grower five days to provide the samples to the lab because of software problems, he said, characterizing the bugs as nothing unusual for a new program.
It isn't clear how soon other labs might be certified or be ready to handle samples. Seattle's Sea of Green Farms is one of the two growers who have had their pot tested. Bob Leeds, a partner there, confirmed that as of Saturday, the only certified lab that shows up in the tracking system is Analytical 360.
The other grower tested is Spokane's Kouchlock Productions. Kouchlock and Sea of Green were among the very first growers licensed back in March.
Spokesmen for the liquor board did not immediately return a call or emails on Saturday.
The Sea of Green team was spending the weekend packaging the approximately 40 pounds of marijuana it harvested recently, Leeds said. It has contracts with four shops to sell most of it already -- for an exorbitant $4,000 a pound. That's nearly $9 per gram before the retailer's mark-up, 25 percent retail excise tax, and state and local sales taxes. At the state's unlicensed medical dispensaries, cannabis often sells for $8 to $12 per gram.
"When people start calling we have to tell them we're not going to have anything for them until August," Leeds said. "That's a long way off when you're trying to open a business."