The first sales of legal recreational marijuana started Tuesday morning at a Bellingham shop as hundreds gathered at a shop in Seattle's SoDo neighborhood that opened shortly after noon.
The first legal buyer, Kansas man Cale Holdsworth, proudly held up his receipt for $26.50 for two grams of "OG Pearl Kush" purchased at Bellingham's Top Shelf Cannabis.
At Cannabis City, which is 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.
His store was set to open at "high noon" on Tuesday, but a software glitch kept the hundreds waiting outside until about 12:15 p.m. before they could buy some of the 10 pounds of pot the store was able to get.
People started to line up outside the store around 9 a.m. By the time the store opened, there was about 200 people in line, but only a few were being let in at a time.
Even Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes was outside, saying he wanted to exercise his newfound right, inferring he would purchase marijuana.
Buyers were able to purchase two-gram bags for about $40, KIRO 7 reporter Jeff Dubois said.
Washington state issued its first retail marijuana licenses on Monday with a middle-of-the-night email alerting bleary-eyed pot-shop proprietors that they'll finally be able to open for business.
Where are the 24 retail locations? Click here to get the addresses of licensed Washington retail marijuana locations.
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 opening their doors at 8 a.m. Tuesday.
The issuance of the retail licenses marked 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 over 21, and to create state-licensed systems for growing, selling and taxing the pot.
Sales began in Colorado on Jan. 1.
It appeared Monday evening that only six of the 24 licensed locations would open on Tuesday. Officials eventually expect to have more than 300 recreational pot shops across the state.
Click here to see a Q and A about Washington's pot sales.
Michael Perkins at The Solution in North Seattle hopes to get a license later this week. But, he said: "I don't foresee our store having any marijuana for sale."
The supply crunch is so serious, Perkins doesn't think he'll get pot for his store for three to four months.
A spokesman for the liquor control board said regulators were prepared to license several businesses in Seattle, but the applicants just were not ready.
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 state-approved 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 spent 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 pot-tracking software early Monday and officially learned they'd be able to transport their weed 24 hours later, at 2:22 a.m. Tuesday.
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.
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."