Washington state issues first recreational marijuana shop licenses to 24 stores

The Associated Press

George Vargas, left, takes a seat next to first-in-line customer Deb Greene in front of the recreational marijuana store Cannabis City Monday, July 7, 2014, in Seattle. The store will be the first and only store initially in Seattle to legally sell recreational pot when sales begin Tuesday. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

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By GENE JOHNSON, Associated Press

SEATTLE (AP) — Washington state issued its first retail marijuana licenses Monday a day ahead of the start of legal sales, and 21 hours before the only store licensed to sell in Seattle was set to open, a line was already forming.

At Cannabis City, where the owner wasn't planning to open his doors until noon Tuesday, a 65-year-old retiree named Deb Greene, showed up just before 3 p.m. Monday. She had a chair, sleeping bag, food, water and a 930-page book.

"I voted for it, and I'm just so excited to see it come to be in my lifetime," she said. "I'm not a heavy user, I'm just proud of our state for giving this a try."

The start of legal pot sales in Washington Tuesday marks 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.

Businesses including Cannabis City, which will be the first and, for now, only recreational marijuana shop in Seattle, got word early Monday morning from the state that they were licensed marijuana dealers.

Owner James Lathrop had already worked into the night Sunday placing no-parking signs in front of his building, hoisting a grand-opening banner and hanging artwork.

"I've had a long day. It really hasn't sunk in yet," he said.

In a 2:30 a.m. Pacific time interview with The Associated Press, John Evich, an investor in Bellingham's Top Shelf Cannabis, which will also open Tuesday morning, said they were "pretty stoked."

"We haven't had any sleep in a long time, but we're excited for the next step," Evich said.

Randy Simmons, the state Liquor Control Board's project manager for legal marijuana, said the first two dozen stores were notified so early to give them an extra few hours to get cannabis on their shelves before they are allowed to open their doors at 8 a.m. Tuesday. The store openings are expected to be accompanied by high prices, shortages and celebration.

An AP survey of the licensees showed that only about six planned to open Tuesday, including two stores in Bellingham, one in Seattle, one in Spokane, one in Prosser and one in Kelso. Some were set to open later this week or next, while others said it could be a month or more before they could acquire marijuana to sell.

Officials eventually expect to have more than 300 recreational pot shops across the state.

As soon as the stores were notified Monday, they began working 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 might spend hours waiting outside, and rented portable toilets 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.

"It's the middle of the night and we're standing here doing high-fives and our version of a happy dance," he said. "It's huge for us."