Details fill final day before pot stores open in state
Marijuana retailers and processors are scrambling to get ready for Tuesday store openings.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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With the state set to license a handful of recreational-marijuana stores Monday, retailers have been hustling to set up shop while growers and processors are racing to package pot so it’s ready to deliver Tuesday, when the first stores are expected to open.
Aaron Nelson, the general manager of 2020 Solutions in Bellingham, said his store has already passed inspection by the state Liquor Control Board and hopes to open its doors Tuesday at 8 a.m., the earliest hour allowed under state law.
Nelson expects to have enough marijuana for at least 1,000 people Tuesday, but said 2020 Solutions might limit how much customers can buy, depending on demand. He expects his customers to pay $20 to $25 per gram.
2020 also will sell pre-rolled joints, locally blown glass pipes and other consumption paraphernalia.
But first, the marijuana has to get into the stores.
The Liquor Control Board holds the keys to the launch button. At 1:20 Monday morning, the agency is expected to email the first wave of newly licensed retailers and enter them into its computer system, which traces pot from seedling to a consumer’s hands. Then, retailers can buy marijuana from processors.
On Monday morning, Lynsee Michels, the Director of Nine Point Growth Industries, a grower and processor in Bremerton, will be waiting for phone calls from several retailers that her company has agreed to sell to once they’re officially licensed — including the only Seattle shop, Cannabis City on Fourth Avenue South in Sodo.
“Everything’s been done — dried, trimmed and cured,” she said. “We’re just waiting for those retail stores to be ready to buy.”
One problem: The pot supply is expected to be extremely limited at first. Many growers haven’t yet harvested.
Hoping to have enough individual packages to serve every customer a first puff of store-bought legal weed Tuesday, many store owners are asking processors to portion marijuana into much smaller packages than the 1 ounce customers can legally buy.
Michels said that means taking 30 pounds of pot and portioning it into more than 6,000 individual packages with their own labels identifying the marijuana’s weight, brand name and concentration of key chemicals.
“All of our stores are asking for 2-gram packages,” said Michels. “That’s a lot of packages. A lot of stickers.”
Getting those packages to retailers by Tuesday morning won’t be easy, either.
The state mandates that marijuana be quarantined for 24 hours between the time it’s sold and transported to retailers.
That means pot retailers like 2020’s Nelson are counting on getting their state licenses in the wee hours of the morning Monday, ordering pot shortly thereafter then having it transported and delivered to Bellingham before 8 a.m. Tuesday.
The state mandates that processors, or employees of a certified lab that tested the product, deliver the pot themselves, on a direct route with no unnecessary stops. It must be locked in a box that’s secured to the vehicle.
“To put these working parts together for the first time, we hope everyone understands there will be hurdles, frustration and delays, because it’s all new,” said Michels.
“We will open when we have product to sell,” Nelson said when asked about the time crunch. “We are running as if we are opening on 8 a.m.”
For some processors, that time frame could be tricky. “My fear is [my customers] will all call me at the same time,” said Michels. “And there’s only one of me.”
Although there are supply-chain concerns, retailers expect enthusiastic customers.
In Tacoma, Don Muridan said the store he owns, Rainier on Pine, has passed Liquor Control Board inspection and will open at 10 a.m. Tuesday after a “green ribbon cutting” ceremony.
He expects 400 to 500 people at his shop, which is a converted medical-marijuana dispensary that now has an “Apple retail feel.”
Muridan says the shop has hired Tacoma police officers to help with crowd control and will have barricades for the parking lot. “We’re worried about traffic more than anything,” he said.
Muridan, who said he’ll have 60 pounds of pot to sell for the week, will only keep the store open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“When there’s more supply to hit the marketplace,” Muridan said, “we’ll be going to 11 or midnight.”
Tim Thompson, an owner of the Altitude store in Prosser, Benton County, expects to open at 8 a.m. Tuesday with about 15 pounds in stock. He plans to cut off sales Tuesday at 300 customers, allowing them to purchase a maximum 7 grams each. Customers will pay $25 to $30 per gram after taxes, he said.
Besides a crowd of customers, Thompson anticipates a handful of protesters who have held picket signs outside his chiropractic business in Prosser denouncing marijuana.
“I don’t see it any differently than wine,” he said of the recreational pot he’ll sell from his shop on Merlot Drive, not far from successful wineries.
In Seattle, the state announced 21 winners in a lottery for retail stores in May, but only one — Cannabis City in Sodo — is poised to open Tuesday. Owners of other lottery-winning shops in Seattle said they weren’t quite ready because of business obstacles, such as securing financing or a lease, or because they were waiting to see how the competitive landscape looks.
Mehran Rafizadeh, owner of Trichome & Calyx, who drew Seattle’s top lottery number, said he is seeking clarification from state regulators about the legality of his location because a day-care center moved nearby after he applied for a license.
Sam Burke, another Seattle winner, said he hit a snag with the landlord at his initial location, moved on to another site only to learn it was too near a community center. Burke said he has found a third location he believes will work well.
Some retailers have decided not to race the clock or court pageantry. Brian Budz (yes, that’s his given name) said his store, New Vansterdam in Vancouver, Wash., has passed inspection and he expects to receive a license Monday. But he doesn’t plan to open until Friday.
“We’ve been nonexistent to our families for about a month now,” he said. “We want to be able to have a soft opening the night before ... so we can take care of our friends and families.”
Budz said he thinks his pot will sell for $12 to $18 per gram before sales and excise taxes. As his business starts up, he plans to ration pot and sell it in 1-gram packets, but thinks his inventory will level off in a couple weeks as more growers harvest.
“The one thing we don’t want is to have to close the doors, send the staff home and turn people away,” said Budz.
“We’re preparing for it to be kind of crazy, but we’re not going to make it crazy,” he said. “We want people to come, but some of the Colorado pictures [of retail store openings earlier this year] were a little daunting.”
Evan Bush: 206-464-2253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On twitter: @evanbush.
Seattle Times staff reporter Bob Young contributed to this report.