SEATTLE — The state of Washington is counting on the average marijuana user to smoke a joint every three days.
Under the state's consumption estimate for a legal pot market, the math breaks down to 80 million joints, or the equivalent in pot, smoked by roughly 650,000 adults every year. That's 123 joints per user annually.
The state's consumption estimate is important because it drives licensing for pot production, including the number of growers and the size of their operations. Underestimating statewide consumption could hand customers to illicit dealers, according to state officials. Overestimating could lead to surplus weed being diverted to other states.
But the state recognizes that the joint is losing popularity, particularly with younger stoners. A panel discussion at the Drug Policy Alliance's upcoming biennial conference is even titled: "Is the joint obsolete?"
Edibles, topicals and concentrates, such as hash oil, have become so popular that the state figures the market for those products will be as large as the more traditional buds and flowers combusted in joints and pipes.
When the state-regulated system starts selling pot next year, consumers are expected to annually use 40 metric tons of buds and flowers, and another 40 metric tons of the so-called extracts: pot-infused edibles, liquids and topicals, plus hash oil in various forms called wax, shatter and budder.
Working from the state's own announcement of its revised rules, media -- including The Seattle Times -- had previously reported the state's consumption estimate was a total of 40 metric tons. But The Stranger's Ben Livingston recently reported that those 40 tons were only half the picture.
It's the half that deals with "usable marijuana," which the state law defines as buds and flowers, explained Randy Simmons, the state's marijuana project director. It's also usable marijuana that state consultants have been researching in a carefully constructed consumption model that should be completed and released next month, Simmons said.
It's harder to specifically study extracts, Simmons said, because previous surveys on pot use have tended not to differentiate among different ways of consumption. State officials figure that the market for extracts will roughly equal that for smoking.
Overall, state officials believe that usable marijuana consumption — legal and illegal — in Washington is 165 to 170 metric tons a year.
In the first year, the state-regulated legal recreational system is expected to capture about 25 percent of the overall market, or 40 tons.
That equals just over 40 million grams. If an average joint weighs 0.5 of a gram — some joints are bigger and some smaller, but Simmons said that's a reasonable estimate — consumers in Washington would light about 80 million joints, or the equivalent, a year.
According to federal government surveys, 13.4 percent of Washington state's population used pot in the previous year. That amounts to roughly 650,000 adults — and only those 21 and older can legally buy and possess weed under the state-regulated recreational system.
Dividing all those joints by all those adults yields 123 each per year, on average.
Some will use less and some will smoke more. State consultant Mark Kleiman says 80 percent of consumption is done by 20 percent of the users.