Demand for Denver pot could bring long lines in Seattle

by: Graham Johnson Updated:

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SEATTLE - The first month of legal recreational marijuana sales in Colorado could hold lessons for Washington when sales begin later this year.

Sales started in Denver New Year's Day and lines stretched around the block.

People waited hours to be part of history.

 Nine days later, Brie Goldstein stood in line outside Evergreen Apothecary.

"It's awesome. It's really nice they've legalized it now in Colorado," she said.

Inside, business was booming.

Evergreen Apothecary used to be a medical marijuana dispensary.

Co-owner Tim Cullen says on the busiest day selling to patients, he made 115 sales.

January 1, that number rose to 400 and has been strong ever since.

"We have done a transaction every 90 seconds for 10 hours a day," Cullen said.  "It has far exceeded our expectations."

Cullen has since limited each buyer to three and a half grams to keep the line moving.

Across town, 3D Cannabis Center also had a per-customer limit: Four grams plus a joint and some edibles.

"That's so we can spread the love," said Kurt Britz, head of security. "Demand is outstripping supply."

Demand, taxes, and the cost of complying with recreational regulations have pushed up prices.

Brandon Drumm spent about $60 on four grams of weed.

"It's a little higher than I think a lot of people out here are used to paying," Drumm said.

 He's not complaining.

"You can actually come in and talk with someone about what you want rather than doing some sketchy deal with some random person," Drumm said.

While a few Colorado stores spiked prices dramatically, the ones we visited said they hope prices stay steady or even drop.

"We're not looking to gouge anybody," said Kurt Britz of 3D Cannabis Center.

Denver retailers told us if their city had more stores, the lines would be shorter.

And that's where there could be a lesson for Seattle.

Denver has about the same population as Seattle, around 635,000.

During our visit, 22 stores were open in Denver and many more were going through the permit process.

By contrast, The Washington State Liquor Control Board plans to allow a total of 21 stores in Seattle.

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes doesn't think that will be enough.

"I thought twice what we had been allocated would be a good idea," Holmes said.

The state has allocated 334 stores across Washington based on the number of state liquor stores that used to be in each city and county.

Liquor Control Board director Rick Garza says more could be allowed if they're needed.

He doesn't know if Washington will also see long lines, but he predicts Washington will not see the same supply crunch.

"It's a very different system in Colorado," Garza said.

In Colorado, stores must currently grow their own pot, and many didn't plan for such demand.

In Washington, retailers will buy from separate producers and processors.

"Because we've placed no limits on producers and processors there should be ample supply, I mean that's what we hope," Garza said.          

No matter what happens with supply, Colorado marijuana sellers say Washington should get ready for a crush of customers.

 "You're going to see no relief from that demand. It's going to be game on from day one," said Cullen of Evergreen Apothecary.