California pot shops ready to celebrate as sales start Monday

Updated December 30, 2017 - 8:59 pm

SAN DIEGO — Live music. Free T-shirts. A “Fweedom” celebration with mystery prize boxes worth up to $500, and a shot at a behind-the-scenes tour.

Marijuana legalization arrives Monday in California with lots of hoopla, but only a handful of cities will initially have retail outlets ready to sell recreational pot.

By Thursday afternoon, California had issued only 42 retail licenses. Another 150 applications were pending and regulators planned to work a second straight weekend to review them.

Los Angeles and San Francisco were late to approve local regulations, meaning no recreational pot shops there will open their doors Monday.

The lucky few outlets with licenses — mainly in San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area, Palm Springs area and Santa Cruz — think they have an edge being first out of the gate.

But excitement about California joining the growing list of states and Washington, D.C., with legal recreational weed is tempered with the stresses of ensuring shelves are stocked in the face of uncertain demand.

The state issued its first 20 retail licenses two weeks ago and an additional 22 trickled out since, some for already established medical marijuana businesses that have thrived in California for two decades and will continue.

Alex Traverso, a spokesman for the California Bureau of Cannabis Control, said a dozen employees were vetting applications to “issue as many licenses as we can” in the coming days.

The temporary permits represent just a sliver of the thousands of licenses expected to eventually be issued for retail recreational sales. Local permits are a prerequisite for the state licenses, and many cities — including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Long Beach — have yet to issue any local rules, putting huge swaths of the state on the sidelines for opening day.

Several cities ready

The Palm Springs area had nine of the state’s first retail licenses, including seven in Cathedral City, population 54,000.

San Diego had eight. Santa Cruz and San Jose had four each and others were scattered around the San Francisco Bay Area and the state’s northern reaches.

An outlet known as Caliva in San Jose is promoting the “Fweedom” celebration Monday with the prize boxes and exclusive tours of its growing areas, along with massages, acupuncture, waffle desserts and music with “mellow beats.”

A county supervisor will attend a 7 a.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony at KindPeoples in Santa Cruz. Its chief executive, Khalil Moutawakkil, said weed has long been “a huge part” of the culture of the oceanfront college town.

Berkeley Patients Group, which opened as a medical marijuana dispensary in 1999 and has received a permit for recreational sales, expects lines around the block to mark opening day. The mayor of the city that includes the University of California, Berkeley campus is expected at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 6 a.m.

“You’ll see the people who have been consumers for decades and they were for legalization back in the ’60s,” said Sean Luse, chief operating officer. “But you’re also going to see a more mainstream group of people who were waiting for the green light.”

Harborside is planning brass bands at its locations in Oakland and San Jose, with flags and T-shirts for the first 100 people in line.

Some stores ‘hoping for the best’

A few outlets with recreational licenses are passing on the hoopla.

For them, excitement at being first out of the gate is tempered with the stresses of complying with new regulations.

Golden State Greens, with a modest storefront amid car repair shops and budget hotels in San Diego, houses a bustling business that has sold marijuana for medical purposes since 2015. It will open its doors at 7 a.m. Monday, like it does every other day of the year.

After California voters approved recreational weed last year, the shop changed its name from Point Loma Patients Consumer Cooperative, reflecting its ambitions for a broader clientele.

“We’re planning for the worst and hoping for the best,” said marketing director Alex Leon. “There are a lot of unknown factors but we’re prepared.”

Gary Cherlin, chief executive of Desert Organic Solutions Collective in North Palm Springs, received holiday news of his recreational sales permit as he devised promotional packages with hotels aimed at tourists who come for warm winters. He said being among the first shops to sell recreational pot means less competition.

“I don’t know how many more are coming but they don’t have a lot of time left,” he said.

Mount Shasta Patients Collective, which opened three years ago in the northern part of the state as a medical dispensary, has already turned away people coming for recreational pot.

Others with medical marijuana cards have been stocking up ahead of price increases expected after recreational weed is legal.

“We’ll have all hands on deck,” general manager Austin Freeman said of opening day. “It could be really hectic.”

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