First legal marijuana store opens in Bellingham to hundreds of customers

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 8, 2014 Updated 22 hours ago

— BELLINGHAM - Top Shelf Cannabis was the first store in Washington to sell marijuana on Tuesday, July 8, the first day of legal recreational pot sales in the state.

Cale Holdsworth was that first buyer at 8:03 a.m.

"It's a great moment. I'm thrilled. I'm glad I could be a part of this," the 29-year-old Holdsworth, who was visiting from Abilene, Kansas, said after his purchase.

Top Shelf employees pushed hard to ready the store.

"It's history. It's overwhelming. It's more than what I thought it would be," Top Shelf owner Tom Beckley said. "We were still putting tags on the shelves as people were coming in."

Washington became the second state in the nation to open recreational pot stores. Colorado was the first when it did so to huge crowds on Jan. 1.

Just five stores were expected to open statewide on Tuesday and, of those, two opened their doors at 8 a.m., according to an Associated Press survey of the first 24 stores to get their recreational licenses Monday.

Altitude in Prosser reported its first sale at 8:15 a.m.

"It's been an awesome turnout," said Manel Valenzuela, spokesman for Altitude. "We have been nonstop busy."

As for Holdsworth, he was among the hundreds on hand - along with a crush of journalists from other parts of the state and Canada - when Top Shelf employees opened the door about 8 a.m. at 3863 Hannegan Road in Henifin Plaza in Bellingham.

To become the first in a long line, Holdsworth, his girlfriend and her brother showed up outside Top Shelf about 4 a.m., thinking others would be waiting.

"We expected larger crowds. We thought there would be campers and revelers," said Holdsworth, who said he was an advocate of legalization and the responsible use of marijuana.

They were in town for a grandfather's 84th birthday and family reunion.

Sarah Gorton, Holdsworth's girlfriend and Abilene resident, was happy to be among the first in line.

"This is completely new to me. I've never been in a shop where I can buy my favorite thing," said the 24-year-old Gorton.

The couple bought two grams of a variety called OG's Pearl, which sold for a time Tuesday for $19.82 for two grams ($26.50 with taxes).

They said they would smoke their pot at the family home while visiting, adding that they knew it was illegal to carry their purchase across state lines.

"We don't want to ruin it for anyone else," Holdsworth said. "You should not take part in this if you cannot be responsible with it."

Voters approved Initiative 502 in 2012, legalizing recreational marijuana in Washington for those 21 years and older. Pot stores were the next and most public piece of the recreational pot rollout.

The hundreds who showed up at Top Shelf said they were there to buy pot, to be part of history or simply out of curiosity.

They were a mixed crowd. They were men. They were women. They ranged in age from their 20s to their 70s. They said they wanted drug cartels out of the marijuana business, that they supported state regulation, that they opposed federal drug policies in which pot was still illegal.

Among the customers was Sedro-Woolley resident Matt Delnegro, 38.

"I consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur," he said, adding that shopping in a pot store was like being in a beer aisle offering different kinds of beer.

Brian Travino, a Western Washington University journalism student, stood out from the rest of the crowd thanks to the green state flag he wore as a cape to show his pride in Washington.

"We came together. We made that solution happen. It's a change for the better, rather than doing nothing," said Travino, a 23-year-old Bellingham resident who believed that the federal drug policy was regressive.

He wanted to be part of an important day and to later say, "I was there. I did it. I saw it."

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, according to the Associated Press.

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 this month.

At Top Shelf on Tuesday, customers had to show an ID before they were allowed to enter the store, to prove they were at least age 21.

Once in, they looked at varieties of marijuana, each with its own description and prices, in glass display cases.

Some asked to smell the different types of pot using clear, small "sniff jars," which had mesh lids. Once they had decided, their orders were written on a piece of paper, which they handed to employees at the register.

There, the customers received their pot, which had been packaged and labeled by growers-processors before being taken to Top Shelf.

They also could buy glass pipes and other pot paraphernalia.

A second Bellingham store, 2020 Solutions, had planned to open Tuesday but had to delay its first day of business because its state-licensed suppliers had problems entering their pot into the state's computerized traceability system.

Aaron Nelson, 2020's senior vice president of operations, said Tuesday that the store expected to open in a couple of days.

The state Liquor Control Board issued recreational licenses to the first 24 retailers, including Top Shelf and 2020, via email early Monday, July 7.

The early-morning licensing allowed retailers who were ready and had secured their supply of pot to be able to sell starting at 8 a.m.

Once the state issues a retailer a license, the grower-processor quarantines the pot meant for that store for 24 hours. When that period ends, the items can then be transported to the store to be inventoried and entered into the traceability system.

The state has allocated 15 retail licenses to Whatcom County - six in Bellingham, one each in Ferndale and Lynden, and seven others countywide - but Top Shelf was the only one ready on opening day Tuesday.

Skagit County didn't have any retail marijuana stores opening Tuesday.

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.

Top Shelf and other retailers don't yet have other products for sale besides dried marijuana because none have been legally made in the state.

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Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com .

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