Wash. is­sues first pot shop li­censes

The Standard Journal - - State and National News - By GENE JOHN­SON

SEAT­TLE ( AP) — Wash­ing­ton state is­sued its first re­tail mar­i­juana li­censes on Mon­day with a mid­dle- of- the- night email alert­ing blearyeyed pot-shop pro­pri­etors that they’ll fi­nally be able to open for busi­ness.

“We’re pretty stoked,” said John Evich, an in­vestor in Belling­ham’s Top Shelf Cannabis, in a 2:30 a.m. Pa­cific time in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press. “We haven’t had any sleep in a long time, but we’re ex­cited for the next step.”

Randy Sim­mons, the state Liquor Con­trol Board’s project man­ager for le­gal mar­i­juana, said Sun­day night that the first two dozen stores were be­ing no­ti­fied so early to give them an ex­tra few hours to get cannabis on their shelves be­fore they are al­lowed to open their doors at 8 a.m. Tues­day — an open­ing that’s ex­pected to be ac­com­pa­nied by high prices, short­ages and cel­e­bra­tion.

The is­suance of the re­tail li­censes marked a ma­jor step that’s been 20 months in the mak- ing. Wash­ing­ton and Colorado stunned much of the world by voting in Novem­ber 2012 to le­gal­ize mar­i­juana for adults over 21, and to cre­ate state- li­censed sys­tems for grow­ing, sell­ing and tax­ing the pot.

Sales be­gan in Colorado on Jan. 1.

It re­mained un­clear how many of the pot­shops be­ing li­censed in Wash­ing­ton planned to open on Tues­day. Of­fi­cials even­tu­ally ex­pect to have more than 300 recre­ational pot shops across the state.

At Cannabis City, which will be the first and, for now, only recre­ational mar­i­juana shop in Seat­tle, owner James Lathrop worked into the night Sun­day plac­ing no-park­ing signs in front of his build­ing, hoist­ing a grand-open­ing ban­ner and hang­ing art­work be­fore he turned his at­ten­tion to his email — and the of­fi­cial no­ti­fi­ca­tion that he was a li­censed mar­i­juana dealer.

“I’ve had a long day. It re­ally hasn’t sunk in yet,” he said early Mon­day.

He planned to hold off on open­ing his store un­til noon on Tues­day.

“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.”

With the emailed no­ti­fi­ca­tions in hand, the shops im­me­di­ately worked to place their or­ders with some of the state’s first li­censed grow­ers. As soon as the or­ders were re­ceived, via stateap­proved soft­ware for track­ing the bar-coded pot, the grow­ers could place the prod­uct in a re­quired 24-hour “quar­an­tine” be­fore ship­ping it early Tues­day morn­ing.

The fi­nal days be­fore sales have been fre­netic for grow­ers and re­tail­ers alike. Lathrop and his team hired an events com­pany to pro­vide crowd con­trol, ar­ranged for a food truck and free wa­ter for those who might spend hours wait­ing out­side, and rented a por­ta­ble toi­let to keep his cus­tomers from bur­den­ing nearby businesses with re­quests to use the re­strooms.

At Nine Point Growth In­dus­tries, a mar­i­juana grower in Bre­mer­ton, owner Gre­gory Ste­wart said he and his di­rec­tor cel­e­brated af­ter they worked through some glitches in the pot­track­ing soft­ware early Mon­day and of­fi­cially learned they’d be able to trans­port their weed 24 hours later, at 2:22 a.m. Tues­day.

“It’s the mid­dle of the night and we’re stand­ing here do­ing high-fives and our ver­sion of a happy dance,” he said. “It’s huge for us.”

Pot prices were ex­pected to reach $25 a gram or higher on the first day of sales — twice what people pay in the state’s un­reg­u­lated med­i­cal mar­i­juana dis­pen­saries. That was largely due to 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.

Nev­er­the­less, Evich said his shop in Belling­ham wanted to thank the state’s res­i­dents for voting for the law by of­fer­ing $10 grams of one cannabis strain to the first 50 or 100 cus­tomers. The other strains would be priced be­tween $12 and $25, he said.

The store will be open at 8 a.m. Tues­day, he said, but work re­mained: trim­ming the bath­room door, clean­ing the floors, wip­ing dust off the walls and, of course, stock­ing the shelves.

In Seat­tle, among those who planned to buy some of the first pot at Cannabis City was Ali­son Hol­comb, the lawyer who drafted Wash­ing­ton’s law. She said it was a good op­por­tu­nity to re­mind people of the big-pic­ture ar­gu­ments for end­ing nearly a century of pro­hi­bi­tion and dis­plac­ing the black mar­ket, in­clud­ing keep­ing non­vi­o­lent, adult mar­i­juana users out of jail; redi­rect­ing prof­its away from crim­i­nal groups; and end­ing racial dis­par­i­ties in who gets busted.

“No one thought le­gal­iza­tion could hap­pen in our life­time,” she said. “I think this is go­ing to be a lit­tle overwhelming for me.”

Elaine Thomp­son/AP

Cannabis City man­ager Am­ber McGowan takes the mar­i­juana shop’s first call, from a po­ten­tial cus­tomer, days be­fore the grand open­ing Wed­nes­day, July 2, 2014, in Seat­tle.

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