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Pot shops have high hopes

Washington's slow rollout of its legal marijuana market spreads to more cities Wednesday, one day after big crowds lined up outside the state's first licensed pot shops.

Adam Markus, the owner of Station 420 in Union Gap, said difficulties with a software system for tracking marijuana prevented his shop from opening on the first day stores could open under state rules. But he plans to open at 1 p.m. Wednesday — and after seeing how smoothly things went Tuesday, he's relieved.

"When you have absolutely everything invested in something — let's just say I was really nervous until I saw the lines this morning," he said.

Twenty months after voters legalized recreational cannabis for adults over 21, Washington state's first few licensed pot shops opened for business Tuesday, catering to hundreds of customers who were thrilled to be part of the historic moment. The state eventually plans to have more than 300 shops operating.

The pot being sold at four stores in Seattle, Bellingham, Prosser and Spokane was regulated, tested for impurities, heavily taxed and in short supply — such short supply that several other shops couldn't open because they had nothing to sell.

Pete Holmes, Seattle's elected city attorney and a main backer of the state's recreational marijuana law, said he wanted to be one of the first customers to demonstrate there are alternatives to the nation's failed drug war.

"This is a tectonic shift in public policy," he said. "You have to honour it. This is real. This is legal. This is a wonderful place to purchase marijuana where it's out of the shadows."

Dressed in a pinstripe suit, Holmes stood inside Seattle's first and, for now, only licensed pot shop, Cannabis City, south of downtown. The shop was sweltering. He fanned himself with a state-produced pamphlet titled "Marijuana Use in Washington State: An Adult Consumer's Guide."

Holmes noted it had been quite some time since he smoked pot. He paraphrased a line from the "South Park" cartoon series: "Remember, children, there's a time and place for everything. That place is college."

After getting a recommendation on what strain to buy, he spent $80 on 4 grams, including $20.57 in taxes.

Washington is the second state to allow marijuana sales without a doctor's note. Voters in Colorado also legalized pot in 2012, and sales began there Jan. 1.

Washington's Liquor Control Board began working right away to develop rules governing just about every aspect of the industry, from what fertilizers can be used to how extracts are produced.

But the board has been overwhelmed: Nearly 7,000 people applied to grow, process or sell pot, and those licenses are being reviewed by the board's 18 investigators.

Fewer than 100 growers have been approved, and only about a dozen were ready to harvest in time for the market's launch. As for the stores, owners had to get lucky in state-run lotteries for 300-plus retail licenses being issued. Then they had to strike deals to buy product from the growers — in many cases at exorbitant prices.

In Seattle, hundreds of people waited in the warm sunshine outside for Cannabis City to open at noon. Store owner James Lathrop declared it time to "free the weed" and cut the ribbon — actually yellow police tape strung across the shop's door.

His first customer, 65-year-old retiree Deb Greene, hugged and thanked Alison Holcomb, the author of Washington's marijuana law, before placing her order for 8 grams, totalling $160 with tax. Greene said she got excited and bought twice as much as she intended to.

The Canadian Press

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