SACRAMENTO (CBS13/AP) – Customers lined up early to purchase recreational marijuana legally for the first time in California as the new year brought broad legalization some two decades after the state was the first to allow pot for medical use.
In Sacramento, about 25 people gathered for a red ribbon cutting outside of A Therapeutic Alternative, a store that’s been selling marijuana medically since 2009.
There are 11 dispensaries in the Sacramento area that have received city and state approval to sell marijuana recreational use.
Mike Shorrow was the store’s first customer, purchasing more than 4 grams of marijuana, dubbed “Red Dragon” and “Ingrid.” The 63-year-old says he started smoking marijuana decades ago for pleasure but now uses it for medical purposes too. He spent nearly $100, a price he called high but worth it to avoid buying on the black market.
Fifty-year-old Kathleen Santos waited in line so she could be on “the forefront” of California’s legalization efforts. She’s been purchasing marijuana with a medical card at the dispensary for several years.
She doesn’t agree with the high taxation but says she’s becoming more adventurous with the types of marijuana that she tries now that the industry is more heavily regulated.
The shop is only letting 19 people in at a time for security reasons and requires everyone to sign paperwork to become a member.
By law, dispensaries can only be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
California voters in 2016 made it legal for adults 21 and older to grow, possess and use limited quantities of marijuana, but it wasn’t legal to sell it for recreational purposes until Monday.
The ban on marijuana for recreational use dates back to 1913 when it was called “loco-weed”, according to a history by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the pot advocacy group known as NORML. The first attempt to undo that by voter initiative in 1972 failed, but three years later felony possession of less than an ounce was downgraded to a misdemeanor.
In 1996, over the objections of law enforcement, President Clinton’s drug czar and three former presidents, California voters approved marijuana for medicinal purposes. Twenty years later, voters approved legal recreational use and gave the state a year to write regulations for a legal market that would open in 2018.
Today, 29 states have adopted medical marijuana laws. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana. Since then, five more states have passed recreational marijuana laws, including Massachusetts, where retail sales are scheduled to begin in July.
Just after midnight, some Californians raised joints instead of champagne glasses.
Johnny Hernandez, a tattoo artist from Modesto, celebrated by smoking “Happy New Year blunts” with his cousins.
“This is something we’ve all been waiting for,” he said. “People might actually realize weed isn’t bad. It helps a lot of people.”
At first, pot shops will be able to sell marijuana harvested without full regulatory controls. But eventually, the state will require extensive testing for potency, pesticides and other contaminants. A program to track all pot from seed to sale will be phased in, along with other protections such as childproof containers.
In 2016, the state produced an estimated 13.5 million pounds of pot, and 80 percent was illegally shipped out of state, according to a report prepared for the state by ERA Economics, an environmental and agricultural consulting firm. Of the remaining 20 percent, only a quarter was sold legally for medicinal purposes.
That robust black market is expected to continue to thrive, particularly as taxes and fees raise the cost of retail pot by as much as 70 percent.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)