July 9, 2014 in City

Shawn Vestal: Pot spotlight fading soon as normalcy takes hold

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Potheads, your 15 minutes are about over.

TV cameras will not trail you much longer. Newspaper columnists will stop seeking your comments. Tie-dye and Jamaican dreadlock covers will fade from the media spotlight. We will all – I promise – eventually stop making lame jokes about Doritos and Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.”

Just now, though, as legal pot arrives in Washington – as the stores open and the rules are explained and the first retail grams burn – it has been hard to tell who’s more excited: stoners or journalists.

Stoner journalists, meanwhile, are ecstatic.

On Tuesday, Spokane’s first retail marijuana outlet opened in a strip mall near the Division Street Y. Another shop will open soon a block away in another strip mall. Most of the potential shops – the licensed and those applicants still seeking licenses – appear to be solely North Side or Valley locations.

Might this be the impetus for finishing the north-south freeway?

For now, though, the market belongs to Spokane Green Leaf. That store opened at 2 p.m. Tuesday. A line of customers stretched around the corner, and a line of television cameramen, newspaper photographers, and scribes with notebooks shadowed them faithfully.

Mike Boyer was first in line and happy to talk about it. Boyer was interviewed by every reporter in attendance, probably twice by some, starting Monday night, when he first staked out his position at the front of the line. He and a couple of others spent the night there on the sidewalk, mostly sitting up and talking.

By around 1 p.m. on Tuesday – as the 87-degree temperatures baked the asphalt and concrete, and as a skunky perfume wafted out through the storefront glass – he was operating on about an hour’s sleep, he said.

Was it because it was so tough to sleep on the hard sidewalk? Because he was buzzing with anticipation?

Naw.

“The news guys got here real early,” he said.

Boyer was accommodating to the end, inviting journalists to an “after-smoke.” Not everyone had lost their inhibitions, though. Several people waiting in line had no interest in being identified. More surprising, perhaps, was the fact that the owners of Spokane Green Leaf asked the media not to identify or photograph them.

“Because we have day jobs,” one said.

Still, they helped the media fill its belly. Before the customers were allowed in, the journalists poked around the store, taking close-ups of the bagged nuggets of bud hanging on racks behind a counter, and of the bongs and pipes beside them. A cooler of free bottled water waited by the door, and an ATM stood in the corner, ready to dispense.

“Hurry up, media,” an impatient customer shouted outside. “We’ve got business to take care of.”

When the first eight customers entered the store – to a cry of “Legal weed, man!” – they were outnumbered by the 12 reporters and photographers crammed in there. And it wasn’t just the local press. One of the store owners said he’d done more than two dozen interviews with journalists from all around the country.

It’s only natural. All smirkiness aside, this is a major shift. Criminalizing pot use has long been among the dumbest of our laws, and it has also been among the most disregarded of them. The black market reality of pot sales will now mingle with the legal market – and the unregulated medical market – in ways that are still to be seen. The state figures that once everything is up and running, legal sales will account for just 25 percent of the market, said Chris Marr, the former Spokane lawmaker who now sits on the state Liquor Control Board.

So it’s obviously big news, and there’s obviously a long way to go. It’s worth remembering – as Bob Young noted in the Seattle Times – that Washington has “created something untested on the planet. (No, not even Amsterdam regulates commercial production as Washington does.)”

So, baby steps. Tuesday’s opening at Spokane Green Leaf had an air of celebration, and – yes – of journalists furiously picking off the colorful, low-hanging fruit. But it also had an air of legitimacy: a store, with a counter and tills, and packaged stuff to sell. Employees wore matching T-shirts with the store logo. At 9107 N. Country Homes Blvd., Spokane Green Leaf sits not far from a Jazzercise center and an insurance company and a church and a grocer and a real estate office. And – yes, sorry, can’t help myself – it’s conveniently very close to a Baskin-Robbins, a McDonald’s and a Long John Silver’s.

It was, in short, a step toward normalcy, toward the middle of the road. As if to prove it, when the first customers left the shop, one of the owners called, “Make sure to like us on Facebook!”

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.


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