Pubdate: Mon, 01 Jan 2018
Source: Hartford Courant (CT)
Copyright: 2018 The Hartford Courant
Authors: Angel Jennings, Sarah Parvini and Gary Robbins


Legal sale of recreational marijuana began in California on Monday
with fanfare, and some anxiety.

Companies began selling pot in a relatively small number of businesses
Monday, with more expected to join in the coming days and weeks.

The state has issued dozens of permits for retailers to begin
recreational sales this week, expanding a market that is expected to
grow to $7 billion annually by 2020. Several of those retailers are in
West Hollywood, but they won't open until Tuesday at the city's
request. That makes Santa Ana's licensed stores the closest option for
Angelenos who want to buy recreational marijuana on New Year's Day.
Buyers could also trek to San Diego or the Palm Springs area to
purchase pot.

To sell cannabis commercially in January -- for recreational or
medical use -- marijuana businesses must have local approval and a
state license. Existing medical marijuana dispensaries have been given
first priority for recreational sales.

The city of Los Angeles has yet to start issuing local licenses to pot
shops, which stirred unease among some existing medical marijuana
dispensaries that have been following city rules.

Hundreds of customers -- everyone from older people in leisure suits
to a young man in pajamas got in line -- waited upwards of an hour to
buy such things as pre-rolled joints to topical creams and foods
infused with marijuana.

Urbn Leaf, which operates stores in Bay Park and Golden Hill, rented a
40-foot bus to bring customers in from a bar in Pacific Beach. The
company also had 31 drivers making deliveries in San Diego, which is
currently the only part of the county where recreational cannabis can
be sold.

"We can deliver marijuana in 20 minutes; it's like pizza," said Will
Senn, co-founder of Urbn Leaf.

He surveyed the line outside of his Bay Park store and said, "This is
crazy. We hoped for big crowds, and prepared. But we didn't expect

By noon Monday, the store had served more than 350 customers, more
than it serves all day.

"We're at capacity inside, we have 75 people in line, and the line is
getting longer," Senn said. "We would get as many as 1,000 people by
the end of the day."

Just after midnight, some raised joints instead of champagne glasses.

Johnny Hernandez, a tattoo artist from Modesto, celebrated by smoking
"Happy New Year blunts" with his cousins.

"This is something we've all been waiting for," he said. "It is
something that can help so many people and there's no reason why we
should not be sharing that."

Hernandez said he hoped the legalization of recreational marijuana
would help alleviate the remaining stigma some still believe surrounds
marijuana use.

"People might actually realize weed isn't bad. It helps a lot of
people," he said.

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin and state Sen. Nancy Skinner were on
hand for a ribbon-cutting ceremony as his city began selling marijuana
legally. Customers began lining up before dawn Monday outside Berkeley
Patients Group, one of the oldest dispensaries in the nation. A big
crowd also gathered at Harborside dispensary in nearby Oakland.

Jeff Deakin waited all night outside Harborside with his wife and dog.
The 66-year-old says it's a big deal that they can buy cannabis while
feeling safe and secure, without having to make the purchase in a back

There has been growing anticipation over the beginning of pot sales.

"We are excited. We just got our state license on Saturday aE& so
immediately there was extra energy in everyone's step," said Robert
Taft Jr., founder of the medical marijuana dispensary 420 Central in
Santa Ana. "Being part of history is an amazing thing."

Taft said he brought in five new cash registers and hired six
additional "bud tenders" in preparation for the new law. He also
doubled his inventory and consulted with his attorneys daily to ensure
his store was in full compliance.

Taft has also increased the store's security, adding 24-hour armed
guards. Selling recreational marijuana is an all-cash business.

Kiloh, president of the United Cannabis Business Assn., now says his
dispensary will be able to continue providing medical marijuana to
patients in January by operating as a "collective" until it has
received state and local licenses. After weighing their legal options,
most of the marijuana shops in his group are operating the same way,
Kiloh said.

As soon as L.A. grants them approval, those marijuana dispensaries
will seek state licenses, he added.

For many in the industry, the new law signals a long-awaited

"The days of the dime bag are long, long gone," said Daniel Yi,
spokesman for MedMen, one of the three West Hollywood shops that will
be selling cannabis for recreational use.

Medical marijuana customers at the shop Sunday browsed through
lotions, honey and wellness packages infused with cannabis. Some poked
at an iPad with a menu showing closeups of different marijuana buds.

Yi said the new law will make it hard for the country to ignore the
emergence of recreational cannabis.

"This is the most populous state. We've popularized yoga. We've
popularized sushi," he said. "I think this is going to move the needle
like nothing else when it comes to the national conversation."

Brian Gordon believes the new law will help remove the stigma from a
drug that is already widely used.

Unfortunately, he said, that progress costs money.

When he went to purchase an ounce of low-grade cannabis from his
regular West Hollywood dispensary, he was told that the new law would
significantly drive up prices. State, city and sales taxes will push
up the price of the drug by more than a third.

Those who register with the Los Angeles County Department of Health
and enroll in the medical marijuana program will be exempted from
paying sales taxes, but they will still see a 25% increase.

Gordon, who is between jobs, said the increase will hurt him and other
patients who use the drug for medical purposes.

"I don't mind paying the extra money if the money is actually being
used for good," said Gordon, who uses cannabis to ease his sciatica

At a nearby marijuana shop, a bud tender said that patients have
expressed shock and anger at the increased cost.

"This is not right," he said. He requested anonymity because he feared
losing his job for speaking about the issue without the shop owner's

The bud tender said he would not have voted to legalize recreational
marijuana use if he knew the cost would jump so high. He was worried
that additional tax increases would be enacted, and that shop owners
will pass on the cost of running a legal marijuana business to customers.