With a sudden surplus in inventory, an emerging market becomes ‘an economic nightmare.’

SEATTLE — Washington’s legal marijuana market opened last summer to a dearth of product. Some stores periodically closed because they didn’t have pot to sell. Prices were through the roof.

Six months later, the equation has flipped, bringing serious growing pains to the new industry.

A big harvest of sun-grown marijuana from eastern Washington last fall flooded the market. Prices are starting to come down in the state’s licensed pot shops, but due to the glut, growers are – surprisingly – struggling to sell their marijuana. Some are already worried about going belly-up, finding it tougher than expected to make a living in legal weed.

“It’s an economic nightmare,” says Andrew Seitz, general manager at Dutch Brothers Farms in Seattle.

State data show that licensed growers had harvested 31,000 pounds of bud as of Thursday, but Washington’s relatively few legal pot shops have sold less than one-fifth of that. Many of the state’s marijuana users have stuck with the untaxed or much-lesser-taxed pot they get from black market dealers or unregulated medical dispensaries – limiting how quickly product moves off the shelves of legal stores.

“Every grower I know has got surplus inventory and they’re concerned about it,” said Scott Masengill, who has sold half of the 280 pounds he harvested from his pot farm in central Washington. “I don’t know anybody getting rich.”

So far, there are about 270 licensed growers in Washington – but only about 85 open stores for them to sell to. That’s partly due to a slow, difficult licensing process; retail applicants who haven’t been ready to open; and pot business bans in many cities and counties.

Randy Simmons, legal pot project manager for the state’s Liquor Control Board, which regulates marijuana, says he hopes about 100 more stores will open in the next few months, providing additional outlets for the weed that’s been harvested.

Simmons said he expects pot prices to keep fluctuating for the next year and a half: “It’s the volatility of a new marketplace.”

Seitz and other growers say it was a mistake for the state to license so much production while the rollout of legal stores has lagged.

“If it’s a natural bump from the outdoor harvest, that’s one thing,” said Jeremy Moberg, who is sitting on 1,500 pounds of unsold marijuana at his CannaSol Farms in north-central Washington. “If it’s institutionally creating oversupply … that’s a problem.”

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