OAKLAND, Calif. — 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.
Jeff Deakin, 66, his wife Mary and their dog waited all night and were first in a line of 100 people when Harborside dispensary, a longtime medical pot shop in Oakland, opened at 6 a.m. and offered early customers joints for a penny and free T-shirts that read “Flower to the People — Cannabis for All.”
“It’s been so long since others and myself could walk into a place where you could feel safe and secure and be able to get something that was good without having to go to the back alley,” Deakin said. “This is kind of a big deal for everybody.”
The nation’s most populous state joins a growing list of other states, and the nation’s capital, where so-called recreational marijuana is permitted even though the federal government continues to classify pot as a controlled substance, like heroin and LSD.
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.
Finding a retail outlet to buy non-medical pot in California won’t be easy — at least initially. Only about 90 businesses received state licenses to open New Year’s Day. They are concentrated in San Diego, Santa Cruz, the San Francisco Bay Area and the Palm Springs area.
Los Angeles and San Francisco are among the many cities where recreational pot will not be available right away because local regulations were not approved in time to start issuing city licenses needed to get state permits. Meanwhile, Fresno, Bakersfield and Riverside are among the communities that have adopted laws forbidding recreational marijuana sales.
Just after midnight, some 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.”
Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin and state Sen. Nancy Skinner were on hand for a ribbon-cutting ceremony as his city began selling marijuana legally. Customers began lining up before dawn Monday outside Berkeley Patients Group, one of the oldest dispensaries in the nation.
Los Angeles officials announced late last month that the city will not begin accepting license applications until Jan. 3, and it might take weeks before any licenses are issued. That led to widespread concern that long-established businesses would have to shut down during the interim.
However, attorneys advising a group of city dispensaries have concluded that those businesses can continue to legally sell medicinal marijuana as “collectives,” until they obtain local and state licenses under the new system, said Jerred Kiloh of the United Cannabis Business Association, an industry group.