When the day finally arrived for legal sales to kick off in California, we headed to the nation’s longest continuously-operating dispensary, Berkeley Patients Group, to see the festivities begin.
Though the dispensary was set to open at 6 a.m., citizens started queuing in line at 3:45 a.m. in hopes of being the first to purchase cannabis. The joy was palpable as the line began to creep longer on its way down the block under the still-dark night sky. BPG employees distributed coffee and donuts, and the eager customers in line seemed to be experiencing an angst of the chipper variety, with many constantly double-checking the time on their phones.
About 10 minutes prior to the big first sale, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin started the celebrations with a ribbon cutting ceremony.
“I’m stoked about this moment, not just for Berkeley, but for the state of California,” Arreguin told the crowd. “It’s a long time coming, it’s great to be here at Berkeley Patients Group, the longest operating dispensary in the United States, which has been at the forefront of cannabis reform working with many people to make this day happen, not only to decriminalize marijuana but to tax and regulate it in the state of California.”
Among the longtime cannabis activists in attendance was State Senator Nancy Skinner, whose relationship with Berkeley cannabis policy stretches back 40 years.
“I’m very glad to be here,” Skinner said. “As the campaign coordinator for the very first successful decriminalization of marijuana initiative passed by any city in the country, which is Berkeley in 1979, I’m glad to see this come full circle. I’m glad prohibition is over, and thank California voters for doing so. It’s a great day.”
After the ribbon cutting ceremony, everyone headed inside to circle around the cash register. While multiple dispensaries, including Harborside and Purple Heart, planned to open at 6 a.m. on Jan. 1 in order to claim first in the state, BPG can claim to at least be tied for first. BPG Operations Manager Roger LaChance even called out to the crowd looking for a watch with a second hand.
Prior to the countdown, the first customers in line, longtime activists Chris Conrad and Mikki Norris, selected their purchase. The pair has been involved with the movement since the 1990s and traveled the state for the 2016 election cycle in support of The Adult Use of Marijuana Act. Now they would take their place in pot history, again, for their efforts.
“What we’re getting are three Jack Herer joints in honor of our friend Jack Herer who worked with us for many years but didn’t survive to see the day,” Conrad said. “We’re buying joints in his name today.” Conrad and Norris also grabbed a dark chocolate bar from Kiva Confections.
LaChance told Cannabis Now that BPG is prepared to adapt on the fly to the brand new market. As for opening up the adult use market in the state with the most pot, LaChance said, “Well, there is always this idea that you’re going to have an automatic surge the minute you go to adult use The thing about California is the rules have always been a little bit more inclusive than other states. So there is significantly more ambiguity about which part of the market we haven’t seen yet.”
Also in attendance at BPG on the morning of New Year’s Day was Lauren Vazquez, Cannabis Now’s Activist of the Year in 2016 and a senior advisor to Prop. 64.
“A lot of people have dedicated their lives to changing the law and bringing attention to the injustice,” Vazquez told Cannabis Now. “A lot of people got called crazy radicals or were told ‘that’ll never happen,’ and here we are today proving [those adversaries] wrong. There are a lot of people out there who are against cannabis, but the voters had their say and here we are making it happen.”
When not trying to end the war on pot, Vazquez helps others sell the plant in compliance with all laws and regulations as an attorney in the industry.
“The next six months are going to see a lot of people opening up, a lot of people closing,” she said. “We’re going to see some price hikes with the new tax rate. We might see a shortage of providers — but that’s just the first six months. It’s all going to shake out and get better from there. The market is going to stabilize, we’re going to have more and more licensed operators and it’s going to become like any other industry.”
We asked BPG’s Chief Operating Officer Sean Luse, who also serves on the board of the California Cannabis Industry Association, how long it took to get the world’s oldest pot dispensary ready for this day.
“Damn near twenty years,” replied Luse “It’s been such a long hard road with so many ups and downs. Raids, seizures, and lawsuits… I mean it’s just been a crazy run of 18 years here at BPG and 20 years since Prop. 215. With all the regulations coming down just six weeks ago and having to scramble to get everything ready and not knowing where the supply chain will be Jan. 1 — whoa. It’s crazy right now in California marijuana, but it’s historic.”
Troy Dayton of the Arcview Group said he has been waiting for this moment for 20 years.
“California is really the birthplace of cannabis culture in modern times,” Dayton said. “And it’s the place the most known for its cultivation, and it has the most activists, so legalization here is really an amazing triumph. Colorado and Washington, and even Nevada to some degree — these are pilot studies compared to California, which is the sixth largest economy in the world.”
Dayton said California provides the opportunity to see “what cannabis at scale looks like,” but mentioned that he thinks the most exciting aspect is that millions of people have no longer been subject to arrest or imprisonment since the passage of Prop. 64 in November 2016.
For what Californians can expect to experience following New Year’s Day, Dayton pointed to the number of employment opportunities being created, rising taxes and the ability to undo the criminal market in a big way “or at least making a dent in it.”
The challenges include adapting to a rapid rate of change. “It does mean a lot of people are going to need to do things differently and follow some really ridiculous rules and regulations that get in the way of common sense,” said Dayton.
We asked Dayton which aspects of the regulations, in particular, stuck out as needing a bit of work, and he laughed, saying, “I’m not an expert on nuances, but I know that a lot of people I know are really upset.”
In his 22 years involved in drug policy reform, Dayton has seen every kind of pot activist, businessman and unicorn. We asked what’s it’s been like seeing the moral barometer of the industry shift from the original activist-entrepreneur to the truly big money that has come into play.
“I think we’re starting to see the next level of enlightened self-interest,” Dayton said. “Now you’ve got people with real money — major money — coming to the table. It kind of all came back around because when you get those people at the table, they understand the importance of being politically active. They do understand how important it that their approach take other stakeholders into account. But it is a different orientation than activists. You really have to make sure people understand their long-term vision. But we are seeing just a lot more capital.”
Dayton believes it’s still going to take a bit of time for the regulations to work themselves out. “I bet all these places run out of legal tracked cannabis,” he said. This is because the pace of dispensary approvals isn’t at the same pace as the cultivation approvals.
“I think prices are going to be all over the map and supply chains are going to be weird for the first six months to a year,” Dayton said. “The only people that will be making money off of legal cannabis in the first year are the lawyers.”
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