Legal pot stores open to joyous shoppers
Tuesday was all about people celebrating and marking history as they purchased marijuana at Washington state’s first retail stores legally selling recreational pot.
Seattle Times staff reporters
Explore how public opinions of pot have changed
Deb Greene was looking forward to some blissful shut-eye after buying the first pot Tuesday from Cannabis City in Sodo.
She hadn’t slept Monday night as she waited in line outside.
Greene, 65, a retiree, said she doesn’t smoke pot often. But now she could enjoy it legally at her Ballard home, maybe with “Game of Thrones” on TV. “It’s incredibly liberating,” she said. “It’s the dream of every retiree, sleep in and smoke a bowl.”
Cheers erupted from the crowd outside Cannabis City when Greene emerged and held her two paper bags aloft. She was the opening act in a low-key celebration that also featured City Attorney Pete Holmes buying two packages of OG’s Pearl, one for posterity and one, he said, for “personal enjoyment.”
While Tuesday was all about people joyously marking history, only five stores in the state opened. Operators of several others that had hoped to open said they couldn’t secure scarce supply, as most licensed growers haven’t yet harvested crops. “There are going to be bumps on the road as we veer away from the failed drug war,” Holmes said.
Not much can be concluded from the first weeks of legal sales in Washington, said former state pot consultant Mark Kleiman. “If you want to see what this is going to look like in real life, you have to wait until after the harvest,” said Kleiman, a UCLA professor and drug-policy expert.
Because the state has licensed only about one-quarter of the 2 million square feet it has allotted for farming, supply should remain short for a while and prices high. Inside Cannabis City Tuesday, pot was selling for $20 per gram, all taxes included. (Pot averages about $10 to $12 per gram in Seattle medical-marijuana dispensaries.) Owner James Lathrop said prices likely would rise because he got a special deal for inaugural sales from the farmers at Bremerton’s Nine Point Growth Industries, and he didn’t want to gouge customers on the first day.
Lathrop restocked Tuesday evening and didn’t expect to run out of pot until sometime after Wednesday; he said earlier he was working on a deal with a second supplier in hopes of having more this week. Stores that opened in Bellingham and in Prosser, Benton County, reported confidence in having supply on hand this week.
Alison Holcomb, chief author of Washington’s legal pot law, also bought at Cannabis City Tuesday. She said she hoped the state Liquor Control Board (LCB) would accelerate its review of thousands of applications for business licenses to grow and process pot.
Justin Nordhorn, enforcement chief for the LCB, stopped by Cannabis City before it opened. The state has imposed strict rules — barring minors, limiting advertising and requiring testing for all products — on the new industry. Nordhorn said he talked to store employees about recognizing fake IDs and what to expect from his plainclothes officers.
No police were in sight near the Sodo shop, which hired its own burly security guards. Nor was the smell of weed prevalent in the orderly crowd.
Damien Tillman, a customer from Tacoma, wanted to give Nordhorn a message outside the shop. “Make sure you do this right,” Tillman said. “It’s very important.”
“A great step forward”
In Bellingham, Top Shelf Cannabis welcomed Cale Holdsworth, 29, a Kansan visiting family in Washington, as its first customer just after 8 a.m. With dozens of photographers and reporters watching his every move, Holdsworth scanned samples of the product, then decided on the OG’s Pearl strain.
After making his purchase, he held up his pot triumphantly in a brown bag for all to see.
“This is a great moment,” he told the crowd. “I think it’s a great step forward.”
And like the Neil Armstrong of legal marijuana purchasers in Washington, Holdsworth had became one of the first people to buy weed from a Washington retail shop. The Altitude shop in Prosser also opened at 8 a.m.
The Bellingham event attracted an eclectic crowd of more than 100 people by 9 a.m. Lori Bradford and Ellen McCauley, a married couple from California, said they recently moved to the state, in part because of the new marijuana laws. McCauley said she came to the store Tuesday morning because she was running low on supply. Both women said they planned to buy an ounce.
“Marriage only recently became legal, so I never thought I’d see either of these things in our lifetime,” said McCauley.
Ramona Rodriguez, 65, who bought two grams in Bellingham, said she’s been smoking since she was 18. This was the first time she took part in a transaction that ended with the question: “Receipt in the bag?”
“Budtenders” offer expertise
Back inside Seattle’s Cannabis City, with its avocado and yellow walls, wood floors and glass display cases, sales clerks and twin brothers Adam and Andrew Powers advised the first customers, including Holmes, on what to expect from different strains.
Clerks, or budtenders as they’re known, aren’t allowed to discuss medical properties of strains. But they can talk about how a strain might make you feel. “Each strain has a different taste and smell, like coffee,” Andrew Powers said.
Holmes, 58, got carded by a cashier before he paid $80 for four grams of a potent strain with 21.5 percent THC, the main psychoactive chemical in pot.
Holmes said he planned to keep half for historical reasons and enjoy the other half when “appropriate,” meaning in the privacy of his home when he isn’t working in any legal capacity. “It’s been a long time,” he said, “since college.”
A warm wait, then the reward
Before Tillman walked into Cannabis City to buy marijuana, he ripped off some of the police tape that hung from the door frame and asked a fellow pot buyer for a marker.
“A piece of history right here, brother,” he said. “So excited.” Tillman later asked Cannabis City owner James Lathrop to sign the ceremonial caution tape that the store put up as a representation of prohibition past.
Tillman, 36, had paid another prospective pot buyer, Michael Merithew, $200 for his place in line. That made him fifth or so, after the VIPs Cannabis City would let in first. Then he waited about three hours in the heat to get his hands on legal recreational pot.
“It has something to do with what I love most in this world,” he later explained. “It’s the thing I have the most passion for.”
Tillman bought $200 worth of pot but planned to smoke only one of his five two-gram packages. He wants to keep the rest as a memento.
About an hour later in his Tacoma home, Tillman loaded his bong with Copper Kush.
A medical-marijuana grower himself, Tillman gave a neutral report. “I’ve grown better weed than that, I’ve grown worse weed than that,” he said.
“It definitely hits you pretty good,” he said after a couple bong hits, but noted some rot on some Copper Kush flowers. “You’d expect a little bit better bag appeal,” he said.
“That does smell good, though.”
Times staff reporter Colleen Wright contributed to this report.
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