Liveblog: Cannabis prohibition ends in California

Harborside's first customer Jeff Deakin (middle) makes his first legal purchase. | Photo by David Downs
Harborside’s first customer Jeff Deakin (middle) makes his first legal purchase. Grower Swami Chaitanya shakes hands with Stephen DeAngelo. | Photo by David Downs

11:40 AM — Thanks for joining us. That about does it for this GreenState Liveblog of the launch of recreational cannabis sales in California. Read ‘Your California Cannabis Legalization Launch Guide‘ for a map of where to go, what to bring, what to buy and much more. And read all of our coverage at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Laura Montagna waits to be first to buy legal weed in Humboldt. | Photo by Bill Disbrow
Laura Montagna waits to be first to buy legal weed in Humboldt. | Photo by Bill Disbrow

11:36 AM — (Eureka) An hour before ECO cannabis in Eureka opened its doors, only one customer was holding down a spot in line outside the three-month-old dispensary that was soon to open as the first permitted recreational shop in Humboldt County. Laura Montagna said she had no idea what she was going to buy when doors opened at noon, but she just wanted to experience the moment.

“I don’t usually smoke marijuana. I just thought it would be interesting to be here,” said Montagna, a game store owner who was not familiar with the wide variety of products waiting for her inside. “I have no idea what I’m going to buy.”

The subdued response was no real surprise to ECO Manager Ray Markland. “That’s Humboldt County for you,” said Markland. “They don’t conform. They want to show up on their own time.”

Markland said the shop, which sits midway between Highway 101 and the historic waterfront on F Street has a clear view in from the street so that people can see a legitimate business going on inside. On Monday morning, dozens of people could be seen peeking through those windows, but nobody was willing to line up behind Montanga.

“They’ll probably show up at 12:15,” said Markland. “But it’s exciting. We’re going to have a whole lot of new faces on the legal cannabis side.”

And suddenly within 15 minutes, a horde of 35 people got in line.
And suddenly within 15 minutes, a horde of 35 people got in line. | Photo by Bill Disbrow

11:32 AM — The Jan. 1 commercial sales launch should be seen as the beginning of a process, rather than the conclusion of one. Though California has had medical cannabis for 21 years, lawmakers voted to regulated the trade in 2015.

Marijuana Policy Projects’ Morgan Fox said, “The state waited until last year to regulate its medical marijuana industry, so state government has little experience with this process. “

“This is a process, not an event,” said MedMen’s Yi. “We feel fully confident that the licensing process will settle down soon.”

Longtime activist Amanda Reiman said, “Rome wasn’t built in a day. Implementing a regulatory system as intricate as the one the BCC created, in a state as large and heterogenous as this one is going to take time. Counties are still playing with their alcohol regulations, so this is just the beginning of a long period of adjustment, progress and evolution of attitudes.”

9:30 AM — (Sacramento) More than 400 state-licensed cannabis businesses are now operating on California’s First Day of legal commercial cannabis activity.

Temporary licenses issued by the Bureau of Cannabis Control for retailers, distributors, micro-businesses, testing laboratories, and event organizers are now in effect and businesses can begin operating in California’s newly-legal commercial cannabis market. More than 400 Cannabis operators, from Shasta Lake to the City of San Diego, now hold state licenses in the largest cannabis market in the country.

“This is an historic day for the state of California,” Bureau of Cannabis Control Chief Lori Ajax said. “It marks the beginning of a legal cannabis marketplace that will be well regulated in order to protect consumers and maintain a level playing field for cannabis-related businesses. We are hopeful that we have put forth a model that other states will look to as an example when they head down the path to legalization.”

The Bureau began issuing temporary licenses ahead of its January 1 mandate. In addition to the more than 400 licenses issued by the Bureau, over 4,400 users have registered with the Bureau’s online system and more than 1,800 applications have been submitted.

State licenses for cannabis manufacturers and cultivators have also been issued by the California Department of Public Health and the California Department of Food and Agriculture, respectively. A temporary license issued by the Bureau is good for 120 days, after which a permanent license must be obtained.

9:00 AM — (SANJOSE) At San Jose’s Caliva, Miguel Vargas was the first of 130 people in line to purchase legal cannabis after he arrived at 7 pm on New Year’s Even and waited overnight in the parking lot in his car. The 55-year-old, who is on disability and has been waiting for 3 and a half years for hernia surgery, also suffers from arthritis. “I’m tired of taking pain pills,” he said, planning to stock up on CBD edibles. “It’s going to be a lot easier for me and other people out there — people with chronic pain and cancer — to come in and get what they need.”

Miguel Vargas at San Jose’s Caliva | Photo by Carolyne Zinko

8:59 AM — Berkeley: Customers were standing in line in the dark outside the Berkeley Patients Group before 6 am waiting for the first legal sale to occur.  Notables included Mayor Jesse Arreguin, who called it a “wonderful day” for Berkeley, and State Senator Nancy Skinner, who recalled having been the campaign coordinator of Berkeley’s original marijuana initiative of 1979.  We crowded around the sales counter to watch Chris Conrad and Mikki Norris buy the first adult use cannabis with a $100 bill at exactly 6 am.  They bought 3 Jack Herer pre-rolls and a chocolate bar,  discreetly enclosed in an opaque envelope per state regulations.  Customers came from as far away as Pescadero  and  Merced  to celebrate, there was even a 65 year old  local on hand who had never been a medical user.  Mayor Arreguin confirmed that he is sponsoring an emergency measure, to be voted on next week, which will lower Berkeley’s tax on marijuana sales from 10% to 2.5% in order to stay

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin cuts the ribbon on Berkeley Patients Group’s legal sales of recreational marijuana at 6 am on Jan. 1. | Photo by Jimi Devine

8:58 AM — Santa Cruz: KindPeoples Collective sold its first legal cannabis to a professor emeritus who noted the historical significance of cannabis prohibition coming to an end.

8:47 AM — Five people are in line at River City Phoenix in Sacramento, where there are more media than customers. Two other nearby dispensaries are quiet and there is no activity outside.

7:50 AM — There is no longer a line outside at Harborside. More than 10 cashiers have processed several hundred customers in less than two hours.

7:15 AM — First Sacramento sale takes place at approximately 7:15 am at Golden Health and Wellness. The lack of action seems to be the story in Sacramento.

Click here for live coverage of recreational cannabis legalization throughout the state.

7:05 AM — Just for background: Voters passed legalization Proposition 64 in 2016, immediately legalizing the possession of up to one ounce by adults 21 and older, as well as cultivation and gifting.

Commercial regulations and licenses began rolling out in late 2017 and will continue for years. The state has earmarked more than $100 million to hire regulators for the newly created Bureau of Cannabis Control. Tax revenue from legal marijuana could total $1 billion per year, plus $250 million in court savings, according to estimates from the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office.

7:00 AM — Sales are scheduled to begin in Santa Ana at MedMen OC and other stores. Santa Ana is the nearest city to Los Angeles with recreational marijuana for sale on launch day. You can view open stores on our map, sourced from state database of licensees.

Los Angeles never managed to regulate its medical dispensaries, and remains behind the curve on adult-use sales, noted CalNORML’s Dale Gieringer. “Los Angeles has always been a model of governmental dysfunction with regards to marijuana. However, it’s disappointing that San Francisco bobbled the ball. Still, there’s plenty of time for the rest of the state to catch up,” he told us.

Longtime activist and Oakland dispensary operator Debby Goldsberry obtained state licensing just days before the launch. She said most jurisdictions have blocked cannabis commerce and those that allow retailers burden them with unprecedented levels of red tape.

“The problem is the bans across the state. These will only go away if citizens take action to change them. … The other big problem is the permitting process itself,” she said. “San Francisco has no excuse for being a week late to the table; it makes no sense for them to lag behind when the voters there so clearly support this.”

6:49 AM — Read Your ‘California Cannabis Legalization Launch Guide‘ for a map of where to go, what to bring, what to buy and much more.

Most folks who want or need cannabis already know how to get it in California, which has had medical marijuana for 21 years. But Jan. 1, 2018 signifies a milestone — similar to the end of alcohol prohibition Dec. 5, 1933.

Harborside founder Steve DeAngelo cuts the ribbon at 6 am in Oakland to kick off California's legal recreational sales of marijuana on New Year's Day.
Harborside founder Steve DeAngelo cuts the ribbon at 6 am in Oakland to kick off California’s legal recreational sales of marijuana on New Year’s Day.

6:45 AM — “I think there’s a mixture of pride and relief,” Alex Traverso, communications director for the state’s regulatory agency, the Bureau of Cannabis Control, told GreenState.

The BCC worked through the holiday weekend approving retail licensees.

“So much work work went into being ready for this historic day, and our staff has really worked tirelessly for nearly two years getting us to this point. It’s really been an incredible journey.”

Licensed dispensaries are offering free gift bags worth hundreds of dollars to the first several hundred people in line. Others are providing free food, drinks and music, and performing ceremonial first sales to symbolic customers.

For example, the KindPeoples shop in Santa Cruz will make its first sale to UC Santa Cruz professor emeritus Craig Reinarman.

The 60 or so outlets open “is  as good as I expected,” said Dale Gieringer, who directs California’s NORML chapter. “To paraphrase the Chinese saying, a market of 1,000 licensees begins with a single store.”

6:40 AM — Activist and California NORML director Dale Gieringer postponed a winter vacation by one day to see legal sales commence. “This marks the welcome end of a century of prohibition —104 years to be accurate.  It’s wonderful that people aren’t being imprisoned for marijuana the way they used to be.”   

6:35 AM — Medical marijuana dispensaries continue to operate as normal on Jan. 1 — they have a little under a year to come into compliance with new medical marijuana regulations. California might have such 1,000 dispensaries, and a doctor’s note will still be required to enter them after Jan. 1.

6:30 AM PST — Morgan Fox with national cannabis law reformers Marijuana Policy Project said, “This is a huge step forward. The most populous state in the nation has legalized marijuana and, in doing so, has taken steps beyond legalization to benefit youth, the environment, and to begin repairing the harms of marijuana criminalization.”

6:25 AM PST — Harborside’s first sale technically went to their attorney, former federal prosecutor Henry Wykowski.  He bought one gam of Neville’s Purple for $20.01 in cash. People cheered. The doors opened to the crowd. DeAngelo said “we’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time.”

6:19 AM PST — Harborside is filled with customers making purchases.

The first person in line is Jeff Deaking and his wife Mary from Walnut Creek, CA. Jeff is a veteran and a senior who uses cannabis cbd lotion on his hands for arthritis. He started waiting at 6 p.m. Sunday. “To be the first in line at Harborside. It’s the first time in California history you can buy it recreationally.”

He also uses it for “well-being.”

Mary says, “we’re old but we don’t take any pills.”

5:30 AM PST — About 100 people are in line at Harborside in Oakland. Extra lighting and security are fill the parking lot as cars fill in.

5 AM PST — Good morning and thanks for joining us as we live-blog the launch of commercial adult use cannabis sales in California.

Cannabis prohibition ends in California today as retail sales begin and long lines are expected at about 60 retail outlets.

Mixed with a sense of joy — there’s frustration and confusion over lack of open stores in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

This morning before dawn, a retail store in the city of Oakland expects to sell some of the first legal adult use cannabis products in California’s modern history — kicking off commercial marijuana legalization in the world’s seventh largest economy.

Similar proceedings are planned a few miles north of Harborside at Berkeley Patients Group in Berkeley, where mayor Jesse Arreguin is scheduled to perform a ribbon-cutting prior to sales beginning at 6 a.m. there.

Around five dozen medical dispensaries statewide are expected to be open today to all adults 21 or over who can show valid identification like a driver’s license. About 1,000 dispensaries in the state will remain medical-only.

Licensed stores will be open today in Oakland, Berkeley, San Jose, Santa Cruz, San Diego, as well as West Hollywood, and several rural cities like Ukiah and Shasta Lake.

Most of those stores will begin sales at 9 a.m. and long lines are expected at many outlets.

Today we’ll get reports from GreenState correspondents across the state, including Berkeley, Oakland, Sacramento, San Jose, and Santa Ana. Plus more news from around the state. San Francisco and Los Angeles will miss the beginning of recreational sales in California.

Read ‘Your California Cannabis Legalization Launch Guide‘ for a map of where to go, what to bring, what to buy and much more.

GreenState editor David Downs is in Oakland where about 400 people have RSVP’d for Harborside’s launch party. …

Cannabis Editor |? | San Francisco Chronicle. Award-winning journalist. Best-selling author.