BY JONATHAN J. COOPER AND TERRENCE PETTY
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Excited shoppers looking to score some of the first recreational marijuana sold legally in Oregon bought up baggies of bud early Thursday, taking advantage of door-buster prices and other deals.
Some of the more than 250 dispensaries that already offer medical marijuana in the state welcomed recreational users soon after midnight – just moments after it became legal to sell to anyone who is at least 21.
At Shango Premium Cannabis in Portland, co-founder Shane McKee said the first sale came about a minute after midnight and many others quickly followed.
"I think it's not only historical for folks in Oregon, but nationwide – anytime people start selling that as an alternative to alcohol or tobacco," he said in a telephone interview.
Brad Zusman, co-owner of Canna Daddy's in Portland, said more than 90 customers bought pot in the first two hours after the store opened at 7 a.m.
He said customers told him they've "been waiting all their lives for a moment like this." He expected to sell $60,000 worth of marijuana throughout the day.
There were no reports of arrests or other problems involving the early sales in the state. Most stores planned to open later in the day.
Oregon is one of four states that have legalized the sale of recreational marijuana.
Business began in Oregon with far more dispensaries than did Colorado or Washington state, where pot shops have been up and running for more than a year. Alaska could begin retail sales next year.
Foster Buds PDX in Portland had a couple hundred customers since opening just after midnight, shop manager Ken Martin said.
"It's just been a steady flow," he said, adding that employees repeatedly refilled jars with pot to meet the demand.
Two customers who came in had just turned 21, he said.
Davia Fleming of Portland, the first buyer at McKee's store, said the atmosphere was upbeat for the launch of the new industry.
"It's the end of a prohibition," said Fleming, who uses the drug for medicinal purposes.
The store offered its first 25 customers 35 to 40 percent discounts and was handing out soda, coffee, juice and other refreshments, McKee said.
Many stores in Oregon were trying to lure customers with extended hours, food giveaways and discounted marijuana.
Shoppers have one more incentive to buy early and often: Under Oregon law, pot purchases will be tax-free until January – a savings of up to 20 percent.
Store owners say they are hopeful they can avoid the shortages and price spikes that followed the start of legal sales last year in Washington and Colorado. Alaska could begin retail sales next year.
One store offered a goody bag with T-shirts, but no free marijuana. Another will have a live band and 10 percent discounts.
Several stores have erected billboards in Portland. A shop in Merlin is advertising on the radio.
"I'm just trying to basically stock up for maybe four or five times what the normal volume would be," said Chris Byers, owner of River City Dispensary in Merlin.
Customers can buy as much as 7 grams at a time of dried marijuana flower and leaf – the part that's generally smoked – plus plants and seeds.
For the next year or so, pot-infused candy, cookies, oils and lotions will be available only to people with medical marijuana cards as the state works on retail regulations for those products.
Oregon has a robust supply system that has supported medical marijuana users and the black market. Companies have invested in massive warehouses in Portland to grow the drug indoors, and southern Oregon has some of the nation's best conditions for outdoor cultivation.
Growers don't face strict regulations yet, so the supply can more easily flow into retail stores than it did in Washington and Colorado.
Still, there is concern. Summer has historically been a time of marijuana shortages in Oregon, and most of the outdoor crop is not ready to harvest. Indoor growers have had minimal time to ramp up production, because lawmakers only approved the Oct. 1 start date three months ago.
"We have kind of a seasonal growing market here in Oregon," said Jeremy Pratt, owner of Nectar Cannabis, which has four stores in Portland. "We have lots of product in the fall, and then it kind of gets tight this time of year anyway."
Green Oasis, which has two locations in Portland and more on the way, has prepared by trying to cultivate strong relationships with growers.
It will entice customers Thursday evening with an outdoor band and offer a 10 percent discount to those who spend at least $40, co-owner Matthew Schwimmer said.
"We don't know of anyone else doing a band, and we thought it was a good idea to give back to the community," Schwimmer said.
(Photo Courtesy of PortlandMercury.com)
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