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California’s Legal Weed Sales Are Lagging Behind Expectations, Analysts Say

With the Golden State’s temporary canna-business licenses set to expire at the end of the month, high taxes and limited local access have created a slow transition out of the black market.

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It's only been four months since California opened its doors to what is expected to be the world's largest legal adult-use cannabis market, but the transition hasn't been seamless. Despite many predicting that the state will see upwards of $4 billion in legal sales by the end of 2018, new research suggests that the start to this new, verdant era is moving slower than expected.

According to the Sacramento Bee, Colorado-based marijuana data crunchers at BDS Analytics have dug through California's first two months of adult-use weed sales and found that business wasn't quite as booming as industry insiders had predicted before January's retail cannabis kick-off.

With around $339 million in total cannabis product sales in January and February combined, the Golden State is 13% behind BDS' originally estimated $383 sales total. To understand why the marijuana market hasn't swelled as quickly as many assumed, we have to consider a number of factors.

Beginning on New Year's Day and continuing through April, California pot consumers have complained about the state-approved industry's hefty state and local tax rates. Compounding those pricing issues with recent reports of a still-thriving black market, as well as huge swaths of legal weed access deserts, the semi-underwhelming start to retail sales begins making a little more sense.

"Medical marijuana killed the black market. This is bringing it back," an anonymous customer told reporters from Marijuana Business Daily on January 1st after leaving a Bay Area dispensary with a $13 gram of hash that he said cost only $10 before recreational taxes. "I almost didn't even buy this," the customer said.

Those sentiments were reiterated by Kristi Knoblich, the board president of the California Cannabis Industry Association. "Sales are happening but they're not happening in the regulated market," Knoblich told the Sacramento Bee this week.

But before potential ganjapreneurs and legal weed investors pull their funds from California's green rush, BDS analysts were quick to hedge their dark cloud predictions, suggesting that warm weather months and continued licensing could right the ship before the fiscal year is out.

"I'm not overly concerned at this point," Greg Shoenfeld, vice president for operations at BDS, explained to the Bee.

And in some parts of the state, like San Diego, observers are still confident about the success of the nascent market. Plus, with only 600 or so licensed cannabis operators serving nearly 40 million California residents, it's expected that increased access to legal weed will spread throughout the Golden State as regulators continue granting permits. Next month, the California Bureau of Cannabis Control will begin handing out permanent canna-business licenses, ending four months of limited temporary permitting.

By the end of the current fiscal year, BDS Analytics still expects California's legal weed businesses to rake in over $1.15 billion in total sales. Not too shabby, Cali.

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