Legal Lacey: Retail Access Takes Root In Washington.

By Bailey Hirschburg

The opening of Thurston County’s first cannabis retailer puts legal access one town over from the state capitol of Olympia. As many as 500 people showed up over 420 Carpenter’s first day, some before 8 a.m. The press was minimal, there was no ribbon cutting, only an introduction by the licensee, events promoter turned retailer, Chad Champagne, which was only briefly interrupted. But more on that later.

The store, set back in a complex at 422 Carpenter Road SE in Lacey, WA. had a more sedate start than Vancouver or Seattle, opening a few days after the state’s first stores. 420 Carpenter’s opening is a prime example of what such events will look like over the next few months as the status of “first” wears off. Openings will still be well attended, but media interest will wain, and word of mouth will grow more important.

 The shop arranged food, a DJ, tents, rope line, commode. Free bottled water and the encouraging signs of staff heading in and out as well as staff from Farmer J’s, delivering inventory. Anticipation mounted.

In 2012, voter support for Initiative 502 in Thurston edged out state-wide by a tenth of a percent. As the head activist for I-502 in the county, I selfishly claimed that tenth of a percent as the winnings of a few core supporters in the region. This opening wasn’t my first, but it was the most special. I live in Lacey, this store felt like a personal victory.

I arrived third, getting there at 8:30 a.m., with a folding chair, magazine, and my own bottled water. Two guys were already waiting, a few showed up after me, they were surprised more people weren’t already lined up.

The sun ducked behind the tree line in an hour, but the crowd trickling in continued. Over a dozen now getting scorched in the sun, and ready for the port-a-john delivery. Soon relief arrived and we were relocated to some shade.

The only other tent was across the parking lot, two friendly ladies from a drug treatment and prevention group. They came by once to offer water, but most of our needs were met by the staff of 420 Carpenter, even water. We even had reggae music. Don’t worry, be happy.

Across the parking lot was something else, The Healthy Element, an unlicensed medical collective. Signs on it’s door made the dispensary’s view clear “not recreational,” “no media.” It certainly had customers, but no where near the line just waiting for recreational to start. At one point two people sat out front two people sat out front smoking what I hoped were cigarettes. They stared at our line, now doubling back.

 After 11 a.m. the line grew faster. The parking lot was full, cars looped back out onto Carpenter Road to find space. Then I noticed something that made my heart warm. The steady stream of people walking across the parking lot smiling. All of them smiling. The music, the line, we weren’t subtle anymore. Everyone could see that this was the spot, that it was real, and they couldn’t hide their relief.

 By the time the store opened at “high noon” sandwiches were passed out, more than 100 people waited. About that brief interruption I mentioned at the beginning…

A fellow NORML member and I agreed to offer Chad Champagne, the owner, a set of leaf cufflinks and official NORML leaf pin as a way to say welcome and thanks. Speaking with his father beforehand, he said it would be a good surprise to make it public as the store opened.

I’d hoped to speak before Mr. Champagne officially opened the store, but he thanked us customers quickly and was ready to have staff start letting us in. I politely took the other microphone from the confused DJ’s hand and started to speak.

“Uh, hello I’m Bailey Hirschburg with the local chapter of NORML, we campaigned hard for I-502, and we just wanted to thank you for taking the chance and starting a store in our town. Oh, and we got you these marijuana cufflinks and pin.” Chad’s face, at first kind of scared when I just started talking, relaxed as he took the items from me. “Now, no more delays, lets get this place open!”

 A handful of applause from people grateful I’d shut up. Chad, to his credit, popped the leaf pin right on his shirt without hesitating, a big smile on his face. And a smile on mine, realizing not only would I get to check out the store, but that was the shortest I’d ever spoken.

All it took was my town’s first pot shop to shut me up.

    The store offered the same wares as Main St. Marijuana in Vancouver. 420 Carpenter is smaller, but looks more like mainstream. Menu on a flatscreen TV, single counter. As I perused the selection from Farmer J’s I hear a customer say “No lighters.”

    Wait, no lighters? The woman at the counter reluctantly confirmed, but promised me they would stock those soon.

    “F**k it,” The guy next to me said, “I can get a lighter anywhere.”

    It was the stores’ only mistake, and you hate to see a rookie mistake after so much work. But all things considered, 420 Carpenter set the standard for what retail stores should aspire to in terms of event planning and customer response. People weren’t just smiling in line, they were grinning on the way out.