Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland welcomed the city’s first retail marijuana store Friday morning as some 80 customers waited for the doors to open.
“In Tacoma, we want to do this the right way,” Strickland said. “We knew there was a way to do this safely and responsibly.”
Unlike dignitaries who attended the opening of Seattle’s first retail pot shop in early July, Strickland did not purchase any of the products for sale at Rainier on Pine.
The first person who did buy, however, was Joe LaPorte, who was visiting Tacoma on Friday from his home in Maine.
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A reporter asked LaPorte how it felt to be the first customer in town.
“It’s going to feel better later,” he said, displaying a two-gram package of a cannabis strain called “Blueberry Kush.”
It was unclear whether LaPorte would take his purchase home or if he would donate it to a local museum as someone in the room recommended.
An hour after the opening, more than 50 people had spent $3,500, said Don Muridan, Rainier on Pine’s executive director.
In the early hours of the day, four men waited on the stoop before the store opened.
Dave, 60, arrived around 6 a.m. and was first in line. The retired government employee from South Carolina, who preferred not to give his last name, said he was expecting more hoopla.
“I was expecting a line, but there was no line,” he said. “I was amazed that no one was here.”
Dave was the second buyer inside the store. LaPorte stood first at the counter as TV news videographers and media photographers recorded the moment.
Also early in line was retired Army First Sgt. Dale Reed, who said he moved from Alabama to Washington specifically because marijuana is now legal in this state.
“I drove up from Mobile four days ago,” he said. “I moved up here for legalization.”
A disabled veteran, Reed said he has used prescription pain medication since his retirement. “Marijuana is better for me,” he said. “I smoke a joint and I feel better. I’m more alert than on the pain pills.”
He said he did consider moving with his wife to the one other state that has legalized pot. He even drove through it.
“I just didn’t like Colorado,” he said.
As the crowd grew, dozens of cameras scanned the area, and three uniformed security guards from the firm Apache 6 waited and watched. A fourth guard was working undercover, the firm’s owner said. A pair of Tacoma police officers on motorcycles watched the opening from across Pine Street.
Several drivers on Pine offered their own opinion by honking their horns.
Rainier on Pine, a converted former medical-marijuana dispensary, had a bright, welcoming atmosphere complete with a balloon arch over the door and snacks on a table inside.
Customers came away with sandwiches and bags of snacks labeled with cannabis consumption do’s and don’ts similar to what the Seattle police handed out at last year’s Hempfest.
“We thought you might have the munchies,” a label on the snack bag stated, and then continued by noting, “Today is historical for the City of Tacoma.”
“Today Tacoma is showing its leadership,” said Alison Holcomb, the lead author of legalization Initiative 502, as a ribbon-cutting ceremony began. “I am so pleased that the people of Tacoma are driving this forward.”
Noting the ambiance of the store, she said, “It’s so comfortable. It seems like anyone from a white-collar professional to a blue-collar worker, someone who’s experienced with marijuana, someone who’s a novice ... is going to feel comfortable.”
Co-owner Don Muridan was active in support of I-502 in 2012, something that made him unusual among people in the medical-marijuana industry.
Most of the marijuana bought Friday came from plants grown inside a Wenatchee warehouse. Monkey Grass Farms, one of the first state-licensed marijuana producers, supplied it to Rainier. A smaller portion came from a grow operation in Silverdale called Green Apple.
Customers were allowed up to four grams, a limit set so the 10 pounds in stock Friday would last as long as possible. More product is expected next week from growers in Wenatchee and Spokane, Muridan said.
Patrons could buy the marijuana buds either loose or pre-rolled and ready to smoke, and in any one of 16 strains. Using a transparent “sniff jar” with holes in the lid, they could take a whiff of the drug or examine it through a magnifying glass.
A gram of the drug, enough for a joint or two, was selling for $20.53 after taxes.
That’s similar to what Colorado buyers paid at roughly the same stage of that state’s legal sales, and it’s about twice as pricey as the pot sold in Washington’s medical dispensaries.
Richard Thorsnes said he’s used to paying $10 or even as low as $5 at his usual medical marijuana outlet, where he has an authorization because of injuries sustained before retiring as a custodian and cook at Western State Hospital.
Still, he wasn’t complaining after he and his wife left Rainier with a gram of Blueberry Kush and a gram of Black Cherry Soda in a white paper bag.
At 58 and 57, they were representative of the age of much of the crowd. But there were young and old, in a range of clothing — not just the Cheech and Chong shirt worn by Thorsnes.
Julie Smith, 57, in pink tennis shoes and T-shirt, picked up four grams of Skywalker Kush on her way to exercise. The University Place resident said the drug eases her pain and helps her sleep, but she’s never tried to get a medical authorization.
“I’m going to try it tonight before I go to bed, in the privacy of my own home,” Smith said. “I’m not going to drive and I’m not going to hurt a soul.”
“We’re here making history,” said Rainier partner Alex Rodriguez. “We are going to be a model for the state, the country and the world.”
But first, Tacoma.
“Let the green times roll,” he said.