Seattle’s First Recreational Dispensaries

The crowd outside of Cannabis City in Seattle was hot and excited today as reporters and cameras crushed together, blocking an entire lane of traffic.

Today is the first day recreational sales of marijuana are legal in the state of Washington, and even though the new law was voted in almost two years ago, many dispensaries are still not ready to open their doors. The state issued licenses to 24 retailers earlier this week, but in the city of Seattle, only one recreational marijuana store opened for business. Cannabis City is in Sodo, the industrial area on the south side of town, and at 8 am camera crews and reporters outnumbered the 30 or so customers lined up to be the first in the state to buy legal weed. By the time doors opened at noon there were over 150 people from the press and over 250 people in line.

“I’ve been here since 6 am,” says Michael, a 39-year-old consultant for the medical marijuana industry from West Seattle. I ask Michael if he has any problem getting recreational weed without legal dispensaries. “Of course not,” he scoffs, “But I’m here as a customer because I want to support the industry, I want to support the legislation and the law. We’ve put a lot of work into making marijuana a legitimate business and now that’s it’s legal I think the right thing to do is to support the retailers so the system works.”

Behind Michael is Kevin, 25, who also has no trouble finding recreational weed. “I’m here because one of my favorite radio shows, Tom and Curly in the Morning on KIRO, is paying me a hundred bucks to buy weed and call in every couple hours.” Behind him is Dan, who works with a medical marijuana dispensary. “I’m here to see their set-up,” he says. “Dispensaries have different regulations than the medical dispensaries so I want to see how they handle product display, packaging, customer flow, that kind of stuff.” And so it is with everyone waiting in line for the doors open, there is more curiosity than clamor.

At noon the doors were supposed to open but there was a delay. A 65-year-old retiree named Deb Greene camped out overnight to be the first person to buy legal weed and she was interviewed by everyone, which took forever. The mood among the crowd was impatient and people shouted to move things along. Reporters outside of a small pool were not allowed inside the store before opening, and the owners would not tell me what strains they had for sale, but large displays of custom glassware could be seen through the door. The rumor around the crowd, which I confirmed with the security guards, was that there were about six strains of weed for sale, all pre-measured in two-gram bags selling for around $50 to $58, taxes included. That is over $25 a gram, where similar merchandise at a medical dispensary would be closer to $11 a gram. When I mention this fact to Michael and Kevin at the front of the line they seem to lose some and enthusiasm and shrug. They’ve been waiting this long, might as well give it a try.

James Lathorp, the owner of Cannabis City, finally cut the ribbon to the front doors with a grand proclamation. “I declare this war over!” He yelled to the crowd of reporters. “Free the weed!” Shortly after that City Attorney Pete Holmes gave a speech to show his support. There was a round of applause and a countdown as people cheered and clapped and the doors opened. Cars passing around the blockage honked and waved in support. It was a very good, but expensive, day.

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