Marijuana sales begin in Washington state

EAGER CUSTOMER: Deb Greene of Seattle, the first customer at Cannabis City, holds up her purchase signed by owner James Lathrop during the first day of legal retail marijuana sales in Seattle on Tuesday.
EAGER CUSTOMER: Deb Greene of Seattle, the first customer at Cannabis City, holds up her purchase signed by owner James Lathrop during the first day of legal retail marijuana sales in Seattle on Tuesday.

Eager customers lined up before dawn on Tuesday (local time) as Washington became the second US state to allow the sale of marijuana for recreational use, although shortages and high prices were likely to accompany any euphoria.

Store employees clapped and cheered at Top Shelf Cannabis in the northern city of Bellingham as its first buds were sold to a 29-year-old from Kansas, Cale Holdsworth.

‘‘I’m happy to be a part of history,’’ said Holdsworth, who was on vacation visiting family and took his place at the front of the line at about 4am.

A handful of shops opened a day after 25 outlets were issued licenses under a heavily regulated and taxed system approved by voters in November 2012.

The nation, and the federal government, are watching Washington’s rollout as a broader trend of liberalisation and pro-pot activism takes hold in the United States.

More than 100 people were outside Top Shelf Cannabis, in an industrial office park, when the doors opened at 8am.

After Holdsworth’s ID was checked to ensure he was 21 or older, he picked out two grams of ‘‘OG Pearl Kush’’ for US$26.50 (NZ$30), which included about US$6 (NZ$6.80) in taxes.

His marijuana was placed in black plastic packaging labelled with its name and strength.

‘‘This is exactly what we need: proper education and information,’’ Holdsworth said. ‘‘It’s a great step forward.’’

A couple of kilometres away, Bellingham’s second licensed store, 2020 Solutions, remained closed as staff said a technical issue with the state’s tracking system prohibited their producer from shipping their pot.


While Colorado has raked in millions of dollars a month in tax since regulated retail sales began in January, Washington has charted a glacial path to market.

State regulators are still processing more than 300 license applications, and the limited harvests by approved growers have fed concerns about shortages.

In Seattle, home to about 630,000 people, the only licensed retailer held a ‘‘high noon’’ ribbon-cutting ceremony.

First in line at Cannabis City was Deb Greene, a 65-year-old retiree who queued for 21 hours. She said she would keep her package of pot sealed as a memento, and might even leave it to Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry in her will.

Brent Michael, the owner of a tile and stonework business in Tacoma, said he and an employee took the day off to drive the 60 km north to the store.

‘‘We took a snow day,’’ Michael said. ‘‘We just wanted to come be part of this. I’ll probably take the bag and save it and open up my regular jar and smoke the much more affordable pot.’’

While some stores offered lower pricing for early customers, the cost of a gram is expected to rise to between US$12 and US$25 (NZ$13 and NZ$28) depending on quality and type.

Customers are legally allowed up to 28 grams of marijuana before buying more. They also can buy up to 16 ounces 454 grams of pot-infused product in solid form, or up to 2 kg of marijuana-infused product in liquid form.


Meanwhile, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office in New York, one of the largest in the US, says it will stop prosecuting most low-level marijuana possession cases, especially for first-time offenders. 

Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said Tuesday (local time) the new policy could affect thousands of people who every year are brought to court for having pot only to have their cases dismissed. 

More than two-thirds of the district’s roughly 8,500 Class B misdemeanor marijuana possession cases last year ended up being dismissed at arraignment. Critics say the process is costly, burdensome and time consuming. 

Thompson says the new approach won’t apply to 16- and 17-year-olds or to people caught smoking in public or near children.

-Reuters, with AP