Washington's first legal marijuana shops open for business

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by JOHN LANGELER, COGAN SCHNEIER and JOHN BACON

Bio | Email | Follow: @johnmccaa

KING-TV and USA TODAY

Posted on July 8, 2014 at 6:46 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jul 8 at 6:46 PM

SEATTLE — Pot shops opened to long lines Tuesday as Washington became the second state to legalize recreational marijuana.

Dozens of people were waiting their turn when Top Shelf Cannabis in Bellingham opened for business at 8 a.m. PT -- as soon as allowed under state regulations.

The first three customers were Kansans. Sarah Gorton, 24, of Abilene, her brother and boyfriend were visiting Bellingham for their grandfather's 84th birthday.

"It's just a happy coincidence and an opportunity we're not going to have for a long time," said Sarah Gorton, 24. "I'm really thrilled to be a part of something that I never thought would happen."

The state is joining a fast-growing market that's already generating tens of millions of dollars in taxes with no signs of slowing down. Twenty months after state voters approved recreational marijuana, Washington's Liquor Control Board released the names of 25 retail pot shops Monday. Most expect to open this week, although some are not sure if there is supply to handle the immediate demand.

Cannabis City owner James Lathrop wasn't in a hurry, and opened his shop at about 12:15 p.m.

"Know your audience: We're talking stoners here," he said. "I'd be mean to say they need to get up at 5 a.m. to get in line."

In Spokane, Spokane Green Leaf was schedule to open at 2 p.m. PT. Green Leaf employees said that, due to a tight supply, they would only allow customers to buy two to four grams on Tuesday because of the limited supply. The cost: between $20 to $25 per gram.

"I'm expecting a line out the door. A couple hundred people, at least," said Chad Welsh with Spokane Green Leaf.

First come, first served could be an important principle as pot flies off the shelves. Chad Champagne owns 420 Carpenter, a Lacey shop scheduled to open Friday.

"It wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility to be closed come Sunday night for a couple weeks until we can replenish," said Champagne, who won two retail marijuana licenses. He called the process "long and ever-changing," but said he expected it to be hard.

"It seemed like as soon as you cleared one hurdle, there were three more you had after that," he said.

A team of 18 is processing the volumes of marijuana selling and growing applications, Liquor Control Board Director Rick Garza said. Between 10 and 15 more applications could be approved every week, he said, adding that any delays came from the applicants themselves, not his office.

"Sure, people can be critical," said Garza. "One of the things to keep in mind is, there's no blueprint here. There is no one that has done this before."

As for the perceived lack of supply, Garza strongly disagreed.

"Remember that for 19 months, it's been legal for people to possess an ounce or less of marijuana," he said, "Where do yo think they're getting that marijuana? I don't think there's a lack of supply in Washington state."

Colorado began selling pot for recreational use Jan. 1. Like Colorado, Washington already had a medical marijuana system in place. The new stores opening Tuesday allow adults over 21 to buy pot just for fun. Regulators in both states have been consulting each other via phone every two weeks for months, sharing tips and best practices as they develop them.

"I think they've got a good handle on what they're doing," said Andrew Freedman, Colorado's director of marijuana coordination.

Colorado already has collected more than $24 million in marijuana taxes and fees as residents and tourists buy pot at state-licensed stores. Washington expects to collect $190 million over the next four years, according to state projections.

At 2020 Solutions in Bellingham, an "issue with the processor" delayed the store's opening until Thursday. But Senior Vice President of Operations Aaron Nelson said that due to the relationships we've built with our suppliers" he does not expect a problem keeping pot stocked. Still, "I anticipate there will definitely be a line when we open," he said.

Outside Cannabis City on Monday afternoon, Deb Greene had claimed the first spot in line. She was armed with food and a good book.

"Now you get good stuff. You get it legally," Greene beamed.

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