California is a little late to the West Coast pot parties thrown in Oregon, Washington and Colorado, but that hasn't dampened enthusiasm as the Golden State celebrated cannabis legalization starting Jan. 1.
"I'm surprised it took California 20 years to get to recreational," said Carrie Jennings.
The 40-year-old San Antonio, Texas, resident traveled with her husband to Washington, Oregon and then to The Green Heart Collective in Mount Shasta to sample each state's pot bounty. She shelled out more than $150 in cash to buy Tokyo G and edibles after talking it over with the bud tenders.
"So far, I've had positive experiences everywhere I've been," said Jennings, who plans to consume the cannabis before heading back to the Lone Star State.
California was the first state to legalize medical cannabis in 1996, but Colorado and Washington legalized recreational cannabis in 2012, and in 2014, voters in Alaska and Oregon also legalized recreational sales and consumption. Oregon also was the first state to decriminalize marijuana possession in 1973.
Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational sales, while another 22 states allow medical cannabis sales and another 15 allow limited medical marijuana extracts.
California permits those 21 or older to buy up to 1 ounce of marijuana a day for recreational use and grow up to six plants. In Oregon, residents can carry up to 1 ounce on their person while in public. Neither Oregon nor California allow marijuana consumption in public.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions signaled late this week he was going to end the federal government's Obama-era, hands-off approach to states that created their own laws for cannabis. Sessions indicated federal prosecutors will have greater discretion in handling marijuana cases that violate federal law. Marijuana is listed federally as a Schedule 1 drug, in the same category as heroin but worse than cocaine and methamphetamine.
Despite Sessions' stance, other states are expected to consider opening the doors to greater legalization this year.
Like Oregon, California stores have plenty of security measures in place and remain a cash-only business because banks are fearful of running afoul of federal law by allowing marijuana stores to open accounts.
California's massive recreational marijuana market likely will have an impact on Oregon sales because fewer tourists will need to venture over the border to buy cannabis, Oregon store owners predict.
Stores in Mount Shasta, which previously sold only medical marijuana, reported brisk business since they began selling recreational pot Jan. 1.
"It's silly to criminalize something that doesn't harm anything," said Michael Starsheen, a 61-year-old Dunsmuir resident who was stocking up on edibles at Mount Shasta Patients Collective to handle pain from knee-replacement surgery. The business is one of three stores selling cannabis in that city.
Mount Shasta is the only city in Siskiyou County to allow recreational sales so far, though Weed will try out medical marijuana sales later this month after years of local stores selling pot-related T-shirts and capitalizing on the town's name.
"This is a conservative area of Northern California," Starsheen said. "They're real resistant to have stores open for this kind of business."
Starsheen said locals have been using cannabis for years.
As in Oregon, California is rolling out the legalization of marijuana in fits and starts. Some major cities, including Los Angeles, didn't have local rules in place by Jan. 1.
At Green Heart Collective in Mount Shasta, the lobby area became crowded last week as customers lined up to sample the store's wares.
"We've had a steady flow of people in here and lots of phone calls," said Gina Munday, owner of Green Heart.
She said the store will need more bud tenders in the future to handle the customers, including some from Oregon.
A few blocks away, Elevate Shasta Wellness is trying something different by growing its own indoor marijuana and then converting it into edibles and other products.
"It's almost like a winery," said Ali Taghavi, owner. "It's unique to us."
Taghavi's retail store is a little off the beaten track, so he said he needs to do more to promote the location.
The other two stores in town, which are on Mt. Shasta Boulevard, have seen a steady stream of tourists.
"We had a lot of people driving through here on the first," said Elizabeth Tabor, who owns Mount Shasta Patients Collective. "I was pretty surprised that Oregon visitors said, 'You've got more stuff, and you're cheaper.' "
Oregon marijuana stores likely would disagree with Tabor's assessment, often touting the exceptional climate in Southern Oregon that they say produces world-class cannabis.
Tabor said she's a firm believer in medical marijuana and actually voted against full legalization because she thought it would diminish the conversation about health benefits of cannabis products.
"I wanted to break up the stigma of the 60's and the stoner thing," she said.
Veterans, breast cancer survivors, leukemia patients, those with dementia and others have used the edibles in her store. In the front lobby area, decorated more like a comfortable living room with a couch and fireplace, she has photos of patients who have come through the store.
Tabor is well-known in Siskiyou County, often hugging her clients and working with the city of Weed to adopt an ordinance to test the waters with medical marijuana.
She was on a local ad hoc committee developing possible rules that would allow stores to open in town.
Three months before applying for her medical marijuana dispensary license, she stepped down from the committee because she wanted to open her own store in town by the middle of January.
"A lot of people were not happy about opening that there," she said.
Tabor said the store, called La Florista, won't play off the name of the town by calling it "The Weed Store" because it would not sit well with locals.
On Sept. 18, she said her employees waited in line from midnight, hoping to be one of the first to file an application.
Cheri Young, owner of the building in which Tabor will open her store, said Weed has avoided taking advantage of marijuana for far too long.
"It's about time," she said. "It's been remarkably well received."
Brie Malarkey, owner of Breeze Botanicals in Gold Hill and Ashland, said she expects an impact to her stores from California's legalization of cannabis.
"We will absolutely have a decrease in sales," she said. "It's not going to be such a thrill anymore. If they have it in their home states, they won't come here."
But Malarkey disagrees that California has better cannabis than Oregon, pointing out that Southern Oregon is at the northern tip of the so-called "Emerald Triangle," the three prime pot-growing counties in California: Humboldt, Trinity and Mendocino.
Also, Oregon has a top-notch system of testing cannabis products for pesticides. In her own store, she said the marijuana is sun-grown and organic.
"We have amazing cannabis," she said.
Some might be tempted to go on a West Coast journey to sample the best weed, but they could find themselves getting cited by a law enforcement officer.
Sgt. Jeff Proulx, spokesman for the Oregon State Police, said he made a traffic stop in Southern Oregon, and the California driver acknowledged buying the cannabis in Portland.
Proulx told the driver that it would be illegal to transport the marijuana into California.
Likewise, someone from Oregon who traveled to California and back could also be cited for having marijuana.
"You cannot take it across state lines," Proulx said.
— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.