July 9, 2014 in City

Long lines, high prices as legal pot shop opens in Spokane

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Picture story: Legal pot shop opens in Spokane
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Mike Boyer turns to the crowd waiting outside and shows off 4 grams of pot he bought as the first in line at Spokane Green Leaf on Tuesday.
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A cross-country road trip landed New Hampshire natives Steve and Tricia Goyette in north Spokane just hours before the city’s first recreational marijuana store let in its first customers Tuesday.

“It’s nice to finally be able to buy it legally,” said Steve Goyette, determined to hold steady in the July heat to take advantage of their coincidental arrival in Spokane just as legal marijuana sales began. “I hope New Hampshire comes around.”

The Goyettes were among the estimated hundreds of customers who lined up outside Spokane Green Leaf, one of 25 retail pot shops to get state licenses this week and the only Spokane-area store to open its doors Tuesday, the first day of legal retail sales. Whether curious, looking for a remedy for a medical problem or looking for a potent legal high, almost everyone in line to buy said they were waiting to be a part of history.

“It’s just amazing how much this has changed,” said Jonna Alexander, another waiting customer, as she handed a case of water bottles to others waiting in line. Temperatures topped 90 degrees in Spokane on Tuesday afternoon, prompting complaints that were otherwise reserved for the cost of the product.

Spokane Green Leaf sold two varieties of marijuana grown by Spokane Valley-based Farmer J’s on Tuesday: J’s Famous Kush and Sour Kush, capping buyers at 4 grams because of limited supplies on hand. Each gram sold for $25 after taxes, slightly more than reported retail prices at Seattle-area shops and much higher than what many said black-market pot sells for on the street.

Brian Smith, a spokesman for the Liquor Control Board, which regulates recreational marijuana, estimated that six of the 25 licensees announced Monday were open for business at some point on Tuesday. Eventually, the state expects to license 334 retail operations across Washington.

“I think that it’s a tempered success,” Smith said. “It’s day one of retail sales after many months of hard work … but things will continue to evolve.”

Smith said the shortages of marijuana from licensed growing operations will ease in the coming months as more producers are licensed and more of their crop comes online. “The supply’s going to be robust,” he predicted.

The agency will license more retail applicants as store owners pass inspections, which could eventually be a daily occurrence. Although the opening day prices seemed steep, there appeared to be no shortage of willing buyers.

Mike Boyer, who lined up at 7 p.m. Monday to be the first through the doors at Spokane Green Leaf, described himself as a “sativa hunter,” a reference to his preferred marijuana variety. He was in luck. Both varieties sold Tuesday in Spokane were advertised as “sativa-dominant” strains, which Boyer said gives a more euphoric high compared to the more prevalent indica strain available in the illicit market that tends to bolster the stereotype of the introverted “stoner.”

“It makes you say, ‘I’m going to get up and mow my lawn,’ ” Boyer said, laughing.

Clad in a tie-dye T-shirt and sunglasses, Boyer indeed made the first cash purchase: 2 grams of Sour Kush. After walking away from the sales desk, an industrial-looking steel setup with a rustic wood finish, Boyer held the bag up over his head in triumph, to cheers from the assembled crowd.

“Go Washington! You gentlemen have a good night!” Boyer said, stepping out of the store and on his way, he said, to test the product with friends he’d made in line and hopefully cram in a few hours of sleep.

Brock Baker, third in line to buy legal marijuana, said he was excited about the experience but still had some concerns about the way the product was packaged and potential issues with law enforcement.

“It doesn’t seem like it tells me fertilizer … I’m surprised they don’t have something I can go look online and see what kind of soil they used,” Baker said. He was also concerned about the lack of shopping bags for the product, which customers carried openly in translucent sealed plastic bags from the store.

Employees checked identifications of every customer who walked through the door and videotaped all transactions. Eight customers were allowed into the store in groups and had to pay cash.

Several customers in line said they had medical reasons for buying marijuana, but had either allowed their “green cards” to expire or had not yet obtained one.

“I’ll come here regularly,” said Michael Foster, an Air Force veteran who said he no longer took powerful pain medications for the pain caused by two back surgeries because of liver issues. Instead, he smokes indica regularly to ease the pain, he said.

But he worried about those who might use unsafe amounts or use it while on the job. Foster said he volunteers at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center.

“I just take a couple hits after work,” Foster said.

Mark Newkirk, who described himself as “not a smoker” though he’d used twice this year, said he hoped legal users wouldn’t “abuse the privilege people fought so hard for.”

The heat and concerns over marijuana abuse didn’t dampen the mood Tuesday. Several cars drove by the shop on North Country Homes Boulevard, honking their horns and shouting encouragement to customers.

“You guys are making history,” one driver yelled, to whoops and hollers from the crowd.

A few hours after Spokane Green Leaf allowed customers in, the line outside had shortened to about 40 people. Store owners said they would stay open until they sold out or midnight, but they didn’t expect to sell out.

“This is fun, this is what it’s all about,” said Robert Vernon of Elk, another self-professed disciple of the sativa strain who has been involved in the political process of legalizing pot.

The Goyettes, who said they were buying their product and hitting the road, said they hoped for success in the Washington pot experiment to show other states its recreational sale is viable and lucrative for state coffers.

“It’s all about the money,” Tricia Goyette said.


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