First customers buy legal pot at Prosser marijuana store

Tri-City HeraldJuly 8, 2014 

— More than 40 people lined up early Tuesday outside one of the state’s first retail pot shops in Prosser, hoping for a chance to be one of the first to buy legal marijuana in Washington.

While the customers were ready, the pot wasn’t.

Altitude — which received its marijuana retailer license Monday along with 23 other businesses across the state — didn’t receive its first shipment of marijuana until 7:50 a.m., almost two hours after the first eager customers had taken their place in line and just 10 minutes before the scheduled opening.

But customers didn’t seem to mind the wait, chatting with each other and taking pictures to mark a historic day, the first opportunity Washington residents had to buy legal recreational pot under the system voters approved through Initiative 502 in November 2012. There were a few protesters, but even they were friendly.

Overall, Tim Thompson, one of the investors, said the opening at 260 Merlot Drive was smooth.

The timeline to open was so tight because Altitude couldn’t place its first order of marijuana until after it received the state license early Monday, and that shipment had to sit for 24 hours because of a requirement that allows state investigators to spot-check shipments. The store served its 300th customer — the most it planned to serve on the first day — by 2:25 p.m., said Manel Valenzuela, Altitude’s spokesman.

The customers were diverse, including business owners and professionals, younger and older adults, medical patients and recreational users. Two people wore white shirts with “Best” and “Buds” written on them, featuring a pot plant.

Shirley Gray of Richland, who owns Uncle Sam’s Saloon in Kennewick, was the first customer to enter. Her purchase was wrapped in a black bag, because pot can’t be in the public view under the new law.

Gray, who has been a medical marijuana patient for four years, said marijuana has greatly improved her quality of life, as she has dealt with rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome and celiac disease — an autoimmune disorder.

“I’m not vomiting 10 times a day,” she said.

She was initially skeptical when a doctor suggested she try medical marijuana after many dead ends, she said. After getting a second opinion, she decided to give it a try. And she hasn’t regretted it.

Being able to get marijuana from a retail shop is a lot more convenient, Gray said.

“Marijuana should be as easy to get as ibuprofen,” she said.

Steve and Jessica Lee of Pasco arrived at 6:45 a.m. to reserve their place in line.

Steve Lee, a medical marijuana patient, said it’s the first time he’s been able to buy a legal bag of weed in a decade. “This is truly legal marijuana,” he said while waiting for his turn to enter the shop.

While marijuana has been legal for medical use, Lee described it as more of a gray market. The medical market will still be needed because of the cost difference — medical is cheaper — and because of the limited availability of specific products in the recreational market, such as edibles and concentrates, he said.

Altitude is selling the marijuana flower for now, at $20 to $30 a gram, but plans to add some edibles in the near future.

The sign on the front of the building doesn’t give any obvious signs that the shop is a pot retailer. Instead, the sign features mountains. Signs on the building and inside are clear — no one less than age 21 allowed in, no smoking, no cameras, phones or tablets. And don’t show the marijuana in public.

People were allowed in a few at a time. Their IDs were checked twice before moving from the waiting room to the retail shop itself. IDs were checked again before any sale, and the receipts were checked before customers walked back into the waiting room and out the door.

There was a lot of customer service every step of the way. Cannabis coaches including Jarrett Moore were on hand to help customers decide what they wanted to buy.

The shelf holding samples was fairly empty, with only a few clear, sealed containers that allowed customers to see and smell the pot available. Some of the varieties feature names like Gremlin, Blue Dream and White Widow.

Moore explained the difference between indica and sativa, two different strains of marijuana. Sativa gives more of a euphoric feeling, while indica is more mellow, he said.

On another wall, display cases and shelves were full of smoking paraphernalia, including glass pipes. The weed came from Fireweed Farms of Prosser and Monkey Grass Farms of Wenatchee. All of it had Monkey Grass Farms packaging because the company also processed Fireweed Farms’ pot, Thompson said.

Customers were only able to buy up to one gram to start because the supply is limited and Altitude’s owners wanted to be able to open daily with some pot to sell. An ounce, which is28 grams, is the maximum that someone can possess under the new law.

It was a soft opening, Thompson said. “We are just trying to provide a great experience for everyone.”

Statewide, 24 retailers and 90 producers have permission to operate. The state plans to issue up to 334 retail licenses and more producer licenses. The state agency received more than 2,600 applications to grow pot.

The store will likely be open from 3 to 6 p.m. today, Thursday and Friday. Weekend hours have not been set. For up-to-date information, go to www.facebook.com/altitudemj or call 509-786-4200.

-- Kristi Pihl: 509-582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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