SEATTLE – Washington became the second state Tuesday to allow people to buy marijuana legally in the U.S. without a doctor's note as customers eager to be the first to buy pot lined up outside stores.
People began purchasing marijuana at 8 a.m. at Bellingham's Top Shelf Cannabis, one of two stores in the city north of Seattle that started selling pot as soon as it was allowed under state regulations. Several dozen people waited outside before the store opened.
The first three customers in line were residents of Kansas, in Bellingham for their grandfather's 84th birthday. Sarah Gorton, 24, of Abilene, Kansas, came with her younger brother Robbie, as well as her boyfriend.
"It's just a happy coincidence and an opportunity we're not going to have for a long time," said Sarah Gorton, a 24-year-old with dreadlocks and homemade jewelry. "I'm really thrilled to be a part of something that I never thought would happen."
The start of legal pot sales in Washington 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.
Washington issued its first 24 retail licenses Monday, though not all businesses planned to start selling weed on Tuesday. It's been a bit of a bumpy ride in Washington state, with product shortages expected as growers and sellers scramble to get ready.
Pot prices were expected to reach $25 a gram or higher on the first day of sales -- twice what people pay in the state's unregulated medical marijuana dispensaries. That was largely due to the short supply of legally produced pot in the state. Although more than 2,600 people applied to become licensed growers, fewer than 100 have been approved -- and only about a dozen were ready to harvest by early this month.
Colorado already had a regulated medical marijuana system, making for a smoother transition when it allowed those dispensaries to start selling to recreational pot shops on Jan. 1.
Washington's medical system is unregulated, so officials here were starting from scratch as they immersed themselves in the pot world and tried to come up with regulations that made sense for the industry and the public. The regulations include protocols for testing marijuana, what types of edibles should be allowed, requirements for child-resistant packaging, how much criminal history is too much to get a license, and what types of security systems pot shops and growers should have.
Washington law allows the sale of up to an ounce of dried marijuana, 16 ounces of pot-infused solids, 72 ounces of pot-infused liquids or 7 grams of concentrated marijuana, like hashish, to adults over 21.