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Golden State Green: Recreational Cannabis Sales Finally Legal in California

The world’s cannabis capital began its next chapter on New Year’s Day, with over 100 licensed dispensaries celebrating by opening their doors to adults from across the country.

by Zach Harris

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin helps kick off legal cannabis sales; photo via Berkeley Patients Group

The world’s largest legal cannabis market is officially open for business. After 20 years under a loosely regulated medical industry and another full year of regulatory debate, the Golden State has finally joined Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon and Nevada as the sixth American state to allow adult-use cannabis sales.

To mark the historic occasion, California residents and tourists ditched the traditionally boozy trappings of New Year’s Eve, trading in champagne toasts for a place in line at one of the 100 or so licensed dispensaries prepping to open their doors on New Year’s Day.

With lines snaking around the building by the time doors opened on January 1st, Oakland’s Harborside Health Center made one of the state’s first legal sales at 6 a.m. local time, legally blessing former federal attorney Henry Wykowski with a $20.01 gram of Neville’s Purple, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The San Jose Mercury News reported that in nearby Santa Cruz, Craig Reinarman, a professor of sociology at the local University of California campus, was the first in line at recently licensed KindPeoples dispensary, kicking off the monumental New Year with an eighth of Nine Pound Hammer.

“This is an historic day for the state of California,” Bureau of Cannabis Control Chief Lori Ajax said in a press release. “It marks the beginning of a legal cannabis marketplace that will be well regulated in order to protect consumers and maintain a level playing field for cannabis-related businesses. We are hopeful that we have put forth a model that other states will look to as an example when they head down the path to legalization.”

In addition to the approximately 100 pot shops from San Diego to Lake Shasta who have now transitioned from checking medical recommendations to birthdays, approximately 300 other cannabusinesses such as extract and edible producers, distributors, and vertically integrated “microbusinesses” also celebrated 2018’s fresh start.

“This is the most populous state. We’ve popularized yoga. We’ve popularized sushi,” said Daniel Yi, spokesman for MedMen dispensaries, to the Los Angeles Times. “I think this is going to move the needle like nothing else when it comes to the national conversation.”

But even as toking tourists turned overnight lines into a holiday, some local residents were less than pleased with legal marijuana’s rising price tag, with state and local excise taxes increasing the cost of cannabis products as high as 30%.

“Medical marijuana killed the black market. This is bringing it back,” an anonymous customer told reporters from Marijuana Business Daily after leaving Bay Area dispensary Berkeley Patients Group with a $13 gram of hash that he said cost only $10 before recreational taxes.

“I almost didn’t even buy this,” the customer said.

Despite frustrated locals, plenty of sales were indeed made, with new packaging and warning labels solidifying the state’s highly anticipated regulatory framework.

Essentially blocking any individual branding, a large state-issued sticker warns about the product’s intoxicating nature and mentions the potential harms for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, while a California-mandated resealable bag instructs users to keep cannabis away from children.

Already enacting emergency rules to enable New Year’s Day sales, California regulators continued to award temporary licenses into the night on December 31st, leaving a number of pot shops to make last minute audibles and scramble in order to open for business on the big day.

In San Francisco and Los Angeles, the state’s largest cities and likely tourist hot spots for legal weed, city regulators weren’t quick enough to develop rules in time for day one of legal sales, but are expected to host their own reefer retail openings within the month.

The Golden State ganja industry will shift once again in April, when temporary licenses issued to kick off legal sales expire, and an entirely new round of state permits creates a more finalized version of legalization in the world’s cannabis Mecca.

Even with tax concerns and entire cities slow to start, California’s first recreational cannabis sales mark the culmination of decades of hard work toward legal reform, and a significant landmark in the struggle for social and civil rights, not to mention the beginning of a market expected to bring in over $7 billion annually by 2020.

“This marks the welcome end of a century of prohibition — 104 years to be accurate,” said Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML, to the Chronicle. “It’s wonderful that people aren’t being imprisoned for marijuana the way they used to be.”


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Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.



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