Mayor Tim Leavitt cut a green ribbon outside Main Street Marijuana on Wednesday, opening the doors to the first recreational marijuana store in Vancouver. The city in southwest Washington is just a 10-mile drive from downtown Portland. Culturally, however, it is many miles apart, and Portlanders say they have little reason to cross the I-5 bridge to visit their suburban neighbors.
But Portlanders were represented among the hundreds of people who waited in line for the doors to open on the second day licensed, taxed and regulated marijuana was available in Washington state. A handful of stores in the state opened to long lines and cheers on Tuesday, including one in Seattle, and a few more were expected to open by Friday, including a second one in Vancouver.
John Evich, an investor in Bellingham's Top Shelf Cannabis, said business remained solid Wednesday afternoon, with five to six customers in the shop at a time. He said he hoped his supply would last through the week.
The store openings came 20 months after voters in Washington and Colorado legalized recreational cannabis for adults over 21. Sales began in Colorado on Jan. 1. Washington officials expect to eventually license more than 300 shops.
Outside Main Street Marijuana, appropriately located on Main Street, a software company turned its parking lot and a side road into a "Weed and Weenie" festival, with vendors selling hot dogs and drug paraphernalia while others distributed information about pot.
Person after person interviewed Wednesday said they were withstanding the lines and the July sun because they wanted to be part of an event they likened to the ending of Prohibition.
"I'm more relaxed purchasing this gram than I ever have been before," said Mark Edwards, 42, of Salem, Oregon, who arrived at 3:30 a.m. and, nearly eight hours later, was the first customer to enter the store. "And this is a chance to be part of history."
The only gripes were about the prices. Because state-regulated marijuana production got off to a slow start, supply problems sent prices at Washington stores much higher than what recreational users generally spend on the black market.
At Main Street Marijuana, a two-gram package of marijuana was going for $60 and four grams would set you back $110. Most people in line said they paid about $10 a gram on the street.
"The prices are way too high. They're going to keep the black market in business," said Teresa Thorsen, 52, of Vancouver.
Many southwest Washington residents shop in Oregon to avoid sales taxes. They also head to Oregon to buy cheaper liquor, and Thorsen expects they'll eventually go to Portland to buy marijuana. Oregon voters are likely to vote on the issue in November.
"They're going to legalize it across the bridge, and it's going to be cheaper there," she said. "And people are going to do what they do now. They're going to bounce over the bridge."
Until that time, Mayor Leavitt and Vancouver businesses hope to capitalize on their visitors from the other side of the Columbia River.
"I'm sure that there will be lots of Portlanders that come up to partake and enjoy, and we welcome Portlanders coming up to enjoy our downtown," Leavitt said.
The mayor acknowledged trying pot in Amsterdam. Was he going to buy on opening day?
"No. I saw what the prices are," he joked.