The most surprising thing about the opening of Vancouver, Washington’s first pot store opening was how mainstream it was. Like a totally sedate, black-Friday opening folks lined up as early as 3 a.m. the night before, eagerly awaiting the chance to catch a whiff of history.
I arrived about 8:30am, and already about 25 people were camped out patiently awaiting Main St. Marijuana’s 11 a.m. opening. News crews packed the area. By 10:20 the line stretched a over a block. By opening time, about 200 people patiently and talked and agreed this was amazing. The group’s average age was older, welcoming a new experience. The green ribbon cutting by Vancouver mayor Tim Leavitt had the feel of a traditional grand opening.
I was manning a NORML table a block away at the “Weed and Weenies” street fair, a partnership between industry start-up Viridian Sciences and a local hotdog vendor. The fair was late notice, small, with less than a dozen stalls, but it was a welcome celebration of the new green era. Throughout the morning and afternoon people wandered to my table and asked “Where’s the pot store?”
“Next block over, stay on the left side of the street, you can’t miss it.” I would tell them, knowing a satisfaction I never suspected when gathering signatures for the Initiative 502 back in 2011. A policewoman wandered the neighborhood, smiles, helpful advice. Few people possessed the stones to ask her where the pot store was. But, overhearing her explain what kind of use and behavior the police would and wouldn’t tolerate, I realized if anyone did ask, she’d gladly tell them. Victory wasn’t easy, or cheap, but we won. The helpful police lady clinches it. Except for a bit of sunburn, it was a dream.
As the day went on I tried to activate local NORML volunteers to keep the pressure on politicians, and the most common problem was not that people were fearful or indifferent, its that they lived in Oregon.
Legal pot in southwest Washington may be the best thing that’s happened to northwest Oregon in a while. Visitors frequently asked about New Approach Oregon, and where could they legally smoke in Vancouver. The stores’ first customer, the one I mentioned arriving at 3 a.m.? He came from Oregon’s capitol, Salem. With no sales tax in Oregon, a savvy Washingtonian knows to make a trip over the river and save some cash on goods. Marijuana is the first industry I’ve seen to tip the scales the other direction, Oregonians jockeying to pay a 25% sin tax, PLUS sales tax. In six hours there, I never heard one complain.
About 3:30 I packed up my table and moseyed over to Main Street Marijuana. The line was gone, I was carded and admitted with a smile. The stores windows are frosted, blocking the inside form private eyes, but letting in tons of light. There’s a sitting area near the door stocked with chips, an attractive nuisance for an establishment not allowed to indulge indoor use of their wares.
I over paid for a package of Farmer J’s pre-rolled “Kush” joints, but the annoying part…my one let down from the whole experience? No receipt. The first time in my life when I badly wanted the paperwork from a sale, perhaps to keep forever, and he told me their system didn’t provide them “right now.” He did have a helpful hand Q & A handout with only one question and answer: “OK – Why so does it cost so much?”
Grammar notwithstanding, it’s a fair question. Main Street Marijuana’s answer was more coherent:
It’s really a matter of supply and demand – there just aren’t enough licensed suppliers yet. And of course the state takes a chunk out for taxes. But no worries – the supply issue will be resolved soon enough and we’re confident that we will soon be offering the finest quality weed at a reasonable price, as well as edibles and more! Meanwhile, by coming here today you are participating in an important part of Washington State History! To help you understand where your cash is going we made a nifty pie chart. (mmm, pie)”
Following this is a graphic saying that for every $25.00 a consumer spent, $12.50 went to the supplier, $9.75 in taxes, and $3.75 to the retailer. Helpful, but no receipt.
I headed back home with the wind at my back. It will take time for these stores to ripen, but they will. Minor hiccups and sunburns aside, the first day of legal sales in southwest Washington was a lot of fun, and evidence that reform is catching on in a big way.