BELLINGHAM, Wash. – Cale Holdsworth strode to the counter at Top Shelf Cannabis, inspected and sniffed a glass jar filled with marijuana, and said: “I’ll take two grams.”
Holdsworth paid $26.50 and held up the brown bag containing his pot as people applauded the store’s first transaction as Washington on Tuesday became the second state to allow people to buy marijuana legally in the U.S. without a doctor’s note.
“This is a great moment,” said the 29-year-old from Abilene, Kansas, as a swarm of reporters and television cameras recorded the moment.
People began buying marijuana at 8 a.m. at Top Shelf Cannabis, which started selling the drug as soon as it was allowed under state regulations. Before it opened, several dozen people lined up outside the shop in this liberal college town of about 80,000 north of Seattle.
Holdsworth was first in line, along with his girlfriend, Sarah Gorton, and her younger brother. They showed up at 4 a.m.
Gorton said the trio was in Bellingham for her grandfather’s 84th birthday. State law allows both Washington residents and people from out of state to purchase a limited amount of pot.
“It’s just a happy coincidence and an opportunity we’re not going to have for a long time,” said Gorton, a 24-year-old with dreadlocks and homemade jewelry. “I’m really thrilled to be a part of something that I never thought would happen.”
In Seattle, hundreds of people waited in the warm sunshine outside the city’s first pot shop, Cannabis City, which opened at noon.
Store owner James Lathrop, holding a large scissors to cut the ribbon for the official opening, said it was time to “free the weed.”
The first customer, 65-year-old retiree Deb Greene, hugged and thanked Alison Holcomb, the author of Washington’s marijuana law, before she placed her order for 8 grams, total $160.01 with tax.
“It’s so remarkable,” Greene said. “We’re showing the way.”
The start of legal pot sales in Washington marks a major step that’s been 20 months in the making.
Washington and Colorado stunned much of the world by voting in November 2012 to legalize marijuana for adults older than 21, and to create state-licensed systems for growing, selling and taxing the pot. Sales began on Jan. 1 in Colorado.
Washington issued its first 24 retail licenses Monday. An Associated Press survey of the licensees showed only about six planned to open Tuesday: two in Bellingham, one in Seattle, one in Spokane, one in Prosser and one in Kelso. Some were set to open later this week or next, while others said it could be a month or more before they could acquire marijuana to sell.
It’s been a bumpy ride in Washington, with product shortages expected as growers and sellers scrambled to prepare. Pot prices were expected to be higher than what people pay at the state’s unregulated medical marijuana dispensaries.
That was largely because of the short supply of legally produced pot in the state. Although more than 2,600 people applied to become licensed growers, fewer than 100 have been approved – and only about a dozen were ready to harvest by early this month.
Colorado already had a regulated medical marijuana system, making for a smoother transition when it allowed those dispensaries to start selling to recreational pot shops Jan. 1.
Washington’s medical system is unregulated, so officials here were starting from scratch as they immersed themselves in the pot world and tried to come up with regulations that made sense for the industry and the public.
The rules include protocols for testing marijuana and requirements for child-resistant packaging. Officials also had to determine things like how much criminal history was too much to get a license, and what types of security systems pot shops and growers should have.
Washington law allows the sale of up to an ounce of dried marijuana, 16 ounces of pot-infused solids, 72 ounces of pot-infused liquids or 7 grams of concentrated marijuana, like hashish, to adults older than 21.
Brian Kost, a 45-year-old Bellingham man, was among the first in line at Top Shelf Cannabis, in an industrial area off Interstate 5. He said he hadn’t smoked marijuana in 17 years because he didn’t like the hassle of trying to find it on the illegal market.
“With the chance to buy it legally, I just couldn’t pass it up,” Kost said. “I never thought I’d see the day.”
Gorton said she, her brother and boyfriend planned to head back to their relatives’ house and sample their purchase.
“We’re probably going to break open a bottle of wine, sit on the porch and enjoy this,” she said.