Legal pot shops open in Washington state
About six stores are expected to start selling pot legally to recreational users on Tuesday
Washington became the second U.S. state to sell marijuana for recreational use when a handful of newly licensed shops opened Tuesday, but a shortage of supply and high prices are likely to keep a lid on any euphoria.
More than 150 people lined up outside Bellingham's Top Shelf Cannabis when the doors opened at 8 a.m. PT. The first customer paid $26.50 for two grams of bud.
"Don't it smell good?" said the sales attendant as the staff cheered.
John Evich, an investor and consultant with Top Shelf Cannabis, says his shop has eight kilograms in stock, but is expecting a fresh delivery around noon. Evich says the government is taking a big share of the revenue.
"The producer is taxed at 25 per cent, then the processor trims it and packages it, and that's taxed at 25 per cent when it comes to us as a retailer. Then, once we sell it, we have a 25 per cent tax. So you're at 75 per cent tax on the product from seed to sale," said Evich.
Only 25 proprietors were issued licences to sell the drug on Monday — with only a handful slated to open with marijuana on the shelves 24 hours later — under a heavily regulated and taxed system voters approved in November 2012. State regulators have accepted 334 licence applications.
While Colorado has been raking in millions of dollars a month in tax since rolling out regulated retail sales in January, Washington has charted a glacial path to market.
People brought their own folding chairs, books and provisions on Monday to wait in line almost a day before a "high noon" ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday at Cannabis City, the only licensed retailer in Seattle.
To the north, in Bellingham, Top Shelf Cannabis owner Tom Beckley planned to offer his first 50 to 100 customers special promotional pricing of $10 per gram, with prices rising to $12 to $25 per gram depending on quality and type.
Depending on demand, Beckley said he might limit what he sells to each shopper to extend supplies.
Customers are legally allowed up to one ounce (28 grams) of marijuana before buying more. They also can buy up to 16 ounces of marijuana-infused product in solid form or up to 72 ounces of marijuana-infused product in liquid form.
Shortages may mean prices of $25 to $30 a gram on Tuesday, roughly twice the price at the state's weakly regulated medical marijuana dispensaries.
However, retailers like Beckley said limiting the first wave of shoppers to buying a few grams will help deal with shortages, due in part to limited harvests by licensed growers, regulatory hurdles, and an applicant backlog.
And popular "edibles", such as hash brownies, are not expected to be available as no processor has been cleared to operate a cannabis kitchen.
Possession of marijuana is illegal under federal law, but the U.S. Justice Department has said it will not intervene in states with "strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems".
"This is a major shift in public policy, so it is not going to be perfect at first," pro-pot Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Mason Tvert said.
"Like with alcohol, it will take some time to determine which regulations work and which do not."
Shoppers only need to be at least 21 years old to buy the weed, but it remains illegal to smoke it in public.
Canadians can still be barred from travelling to the United States if they admit they are planning to buy or use marijuana while in the U.S.
With files from Reuters and The Associated Press