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Bellingham, Wash. - Washington on Tuesday became the second state to allow people to buy marijuana legally in the U.S. without a doctor's note as eager customers who lined up outside stores made their purchases and savored the moment.
People began buying marijuana at 8 a.m. at Top Shelf Cannabis, one of two Bellingham stores that started selling the drug as soon as it was allowed under state regulations. Several dozen people waited outside before the shop's doors opened in this liberal college town of about 80,000 north of Seattle.
The first three customers in line were residents of Kansas, in Bellingham for their grandfather's 84th birthday. Sarah Gorton, 24, of Abilene, Kan., came with her younger brother Robbie, as well as her boyfriend.
"It's just a happy coincidence and an opportunity we're not going to have for a long time," said Sarah Gorton, a 24-year-old with dreadlocks and homemade jewelry. "I'm really thrilled to be a part of something that I never thought would happen."
Gorton's boyfriend, 29-year-old Cale Holdsworth, made the first purchase: two grams of pot for $26.50. As customers applauded, he held his brown bag aloft and said, "This is a great moment."
The start of legal pot sales in Washington marks a major step that's been 20 months in the making.
Washington and Colorado stunned much of the world by voting in November 2012 to legalize marijuana for adults over 21, and to create state-licensed systems for growing, selling and taxing the pot. Sales began in Colorado on Jan. 1.
Washington issued its first 24 retail licenses Monday. An Associated Press survey of the licensees showed only about six planned to open Tuesday: two in Bellingham, one in Seattle, one in Spokane, one in Prosser and one in Kelso. Some were set to open later this week or next, while others said it could be a month or more before they could acquire marijuana to sell.
It's been a bumpy ride in Washington state, with product shortages expected as growers and sellers scramble to prepare. Pot prices were expected to be higher than what people pay at the state's unregulated medical marijuana dispensaries.
That was largely due to the short supply of legally produced pot in the state. Although more than 2,600 people applied to become licensed growers, fewer than 100 have been approved - and only about a dozen were ready to harvest by early this month.
Colorado already had a regulated medical marijuana system, making for a smoother transition when it allowed those dispensaries to start selling to recreational pot shops Jan. 1.
Washington's medical system is unregulated, so officials here were starting from scratch as they immersed themselves in the pot world and tried to come up with regulations that made sense for the industry and the public.
The rules include protocols for testing marijuana and requirements for child-resistant packaging.
Officials also had to determine things like how much criminal history was too much to get a license, and what types of security systems pot shops and growers should have.
Washington law allows the sale of up to an ounce of dried marijuana, 16 ounces of pot-infused solids, 72 ounces of pot-infused liquids or 7 grams of concentrated marijuana, like hashish, to adults over 21.