The first legal, recreational marijuana stores will open for business in Washington state Tuesday, making it the second state in the nation to allow pot to be bought and consumed more or less like alcohol. As Washington joins Colorado on America's weed frontier, here's what you need to know about the latest legal market:
So, who is allowed to buy pot?
As with alcohol, only those 21 and older can purchase recreational weed. Out of state residents are allowed to purchase pot, but it must be consumed in Washington. Marijuana remains illegal in neighboring states. And plan on paying with cash. While some legal establishments may be able to take debit cards, none can accept credit cards because of federal banking regulations.
Can you buy it at the gas station, like a pack of cigarettes?
No. Consumers can only buy pot in retail shops licensed by the state. Internet sales and delivery services are not allowed under the current rules. (Nor are “marijuana food trucks,” in case you were wondering.) And not every part of the state is on board: dozens of municipalities have banned or put moratoriums on pot sales.
When, exactly, are shops going to open?
The Washington State Liquor Control Board, the body tasked with implementing the nuts and bolts of the new marijuana market, issued licenses to 24 retail shops on July 7. Shops are allowed to open 24 hours after the owners finish the licensing process, so July 8 is the earliest possible day. Sales are generally allowed to take place between 8 a.m. and midnight.
And how do you know which shops are licensed to sell weed?
You can find information about the first batch of stores, such as the Happy Crop Shoppe and the Bud Hut, here. Brian Smith, the Liquor Board's director of communications, says the Board has tried to ensure a geographic range for the first stores, while also making sure to serve areas with the densest populations, like the Puget Sound corridor. But it's still a work in progress. Seattle, the state's largest city, has only one shop approved for opening day.
Aren't there supposed to be shortages?
Likely so. As in Colorado, people will be drawn out by the historic nature of the occasion, and 24 retail shops is a fraction of the more than 334 the state plans to eventually license. Owners of those few open establishments might decide to ration their product, setting lower-than-normal limits on how much each person can buy, or raise prices while supply is low and demand is high.
So how much will the legal weed cost?
Store owners likely to be licensed have said that they’re aiming to sell their weed for about $12 per gram, but those prices may range up to $25 per gram.
But when the supply is full, are there any limits on how much you can buy?
The law caps the amount you can purchase and possess at any one time at one ounce (28 grams).
What about pot brownies and other edibles?
THC-infused treats won't legally be available for awhile. The Board has said that such products must be tested and approved, and so far none have made the grade. Colorado has had some problems with kids eating what look like normal brownies or candies and ending up dangerously sedated, which officials are working to prevent through stricter rules.
Can you light up anywhere?
Nope. It's illegal to smoke marijuana in public places -- or even in legal marijuana shops. Those caught consuming in public will not be arrested, but can be given a $27 ticket (akin to a parking violation). Driving while high is also illegal.
So what about out-of-state shoppers who don't have private residences?
Only 25% of hotel rooms in the state are allowed to be designated as smoking rooms. Whether those allow marijuana smoking appears to be up to the individual hotel owners, so call beforehand if you’re a tourist looking for a place to toke. According to the Washington Lodging Association, “There is no current protocol within the hospitality industry as to smoking medical or recreational marijuana inside hotels.”
When will more shops be open?
The Board will keep churning through the more than 2,000 applications they have left to vet for aspiring growers, processors and retail shops. Smith says there's no set date when 334 shops are supposed to be open but emphasizes that a dedicated team will be working as fast as they can to get the market up and running. "It's going to be a bumpy start," says Randy Simmons, the Board's deputy director. "There's no question about that." The loose estimate from state officials is to have around 100 licensed stores open by year's end.
With reporting by Alex Altman
Brian Cahn—Zuma Press