Pot sales now legal in California, but you can’t find it everywhere yet
CATHEDRAL CITY, Calif. — At one minute after midnight Monday, Nick Hughes at the Cathedral City Care Collective was celebrating more than the new year: He had his first legal recreational marijuana customer — perhaps the first in all of California.
Sales statewide weren’t supposed to begin until 6 a.m. PT, but Hughes said he had permission from city officials to start selling once the clock hit midnight.
“He was waiting for us to open,” Hughes said of his first customer. “He was excited, and he seemed like he was honored to be the first.”
Californians voted in 2016 to legalize sales and anyone 21 and older now can make purchases at licensed shops as well as grow, possess and use limited quantities of weed.
► Dec. 31: How will legalizing marijuana affect police work?
► Dec. 29: New 2018 state laws legalize pot, custody fights over dogs
► Dec. 28: Fast-food chain tests ‘Merry Munchie Meals’ for marijuana smokers
You can also contact our local Santa Cruz MarijuanaCaterers.com Affiliate Manager.
About 90 retailers received licenses statewide to open New Year’s Day. They are concentrated in San Diego, Santa Cruz, the San Francisco Bay Area and the Palm Springs area.
“It’s been so long since others and myself could walk into a place where you could feel safe and secure and be able to get something that was good without having to go to the back alley,” said Jeff Deakin, 66, who waited in Oakland with his wife, Mary, and their dog all night for Harborside dispensary to open at 6 a.m. “This is kind of a big deal for everybody.”
Los Angeles and San Francisco are among the cities where recreational pot will not be available right away because local regulations were not approved in time to start issuing the city licenses needed to get state permits. Meanwhile, Bakersfield, Fresno and Riverside are among the communities that have adopted laws forbidding recreational marijuana sales.
Hughes said he had about seven customers come in between midnight and 1 a.m., most from this area. No others came in before dawn even though staff put word out that Cathedral City Care Collective would get a head start on sales.
“We were hoping people would take advantage and people would want to be part of history,” Hughes said.
Along with the retail sales law, California legislators enacted specific provisions for marijuana use. Anyone who purchases recreational marijuana isn’t allowed to smoke in public areas and can’t use it anywhere that cigarettes aren’t allowed.
Traffic laws prohibit use of marijuana in vehicles. A number of traffic laws kicked in Monday, including one that specifically bans the use of pot — smoked or ingested in edibles — while driving or riding as a passenger.
“We can talk about the good, the bad and the ugly of the specific regulations,” said founder Khalil Moutawakkil of KindPeoples, which grows and sells weed in Santa Cruz, Calif., “But at the end of the day it’s a giant step forward, and we’ll have to work out the kinks as we go.”
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.
Los Angeles officials announced late last month that the city will not begin accepting license applications until Jan. 3, and it might take weeks before any licenses are issued. That led to widespread concern that long-established businesses would have to shut down during the interim.
However, lawyers advising a group of city dispensaries have concluded that those businesses can continue to legally sell medicinal marijuana as “collectives,” until they obtain local and state licenses under the new system, said Jerred Kiloh of the United Cannabis Business Association, an industry group.
It wasn’t immediately clear how many of those shops, if any, would be open Monday.
State regulators have said shops must have local and state licenses to open for business in the new year. But Los Angeles’ top pot regulator, Cat Packer, told reporters last month that medicinal sales can continue to consumers with a doctor’s recommendation until new licenses are issued.
The state banned “loco-weed” in 1913, according to a history from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the pot advocacy group known as NORML. The first attempt to undo that by voter initiative in 1972 failed, but three years later felony possession of less than an ounce was downgraded to a misdemeanor.
In 1996, over the objections of law enforcement, President Clinton’s drug czar and three former presidents, California voters approved marijuana for medicinal purposes. Twenty years later, voters approved legal recreational use and gave the state a year to write regulations for a legal market that would open in 2018.
The California Police Chiefs Association, which opposed the 2016 ballot measure, remains concerned about stoned drivers, the risk to young people and the cost of policing the new rules in addition to an existing black market.
“There’s going to be a public-health cost and a public-safety cost enforcing these new laws and regulations,” said Jonathan Feldman, a legislative advocate for the chiefs. “It remains to be seen if this can balance itself out.”
In 2016, the state produced an estimated 13.5million pounds of pot, and 80% was illegally shipped out of state, according to a report prepared for the state by ERA Economics, an environmental and agricultural consulting firm. Of the remaining 20%, only a quarter was sold legally for medicinal purposes.
That robust black market is expected to continue to thrive, particularly as taxes and fees raise the cost of retail pot by as much as 70%.
Today, 29 states have adopted medical marijuana laws. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana. Since then, five more states have passed recreational marijuana laws, including Massachusetts, where retail sales are scheduled to begin in July.
Still, California’s pot shops aren’t like a typical mall retailer or even a liquor store. Customers, like medical marijuana patients previously, will need to be buzzed in from a locked door, and the rooms they will enter are filled with security cameras.
That doesn’t mean marijuana retailers have problems.
“We’re as legitimate a business as a jewelry store, as a liquor store,” Hughes said.
Contributing: The Associated Press. Follow Colin Atagi on Twitter: @TDSColinAtagi