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It's legal now

Hundreds of people waited hours in 100-plus-degree heat Wednesday for free samples of newly legal marijuana, but for William Rogers of Medford, the wait had been much, much longer.

"I've been waiting since I was 13 years old," he said, standing in a line several hundred people long outside Breeze Botanicals in Ashland. "It's been a part of (my family's life) forever." Rogers, 59, said he's been involved in growing throughout the region, and that three of his sons are legal growers.

Both Breeze Botanicals and Top Shelf Wellness Center in Phoenix held celebratory giveaways of donated excess medical marijuana after recreational pot became legal in Oregon Wednesday.

"It's the only legal thing you can do with it," said Top Shelf owner Wade Hull, explaining that selling marijuana for profit won't be legal until October at the earliest. "I think a lot of people are at a misconception about what is legal."

Adults older than 21 can now legally possess up to 8 ounces of dried marijuana at home and an ounce in public and can grow four marijuana plants at home.

Regulation of recreational marijuana sales will fall to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which has yet to establish a framework for retail sales. On Tuesday, the Legislature approved Senate Bill 460, which, if signed into law, will allow retail sales of recreational pot starting Oct. 1 through licensed medical marijuana dispensaries.

Leaving the Top Shelf giveaway, held in a parking lot on Highway 99 outside Phoenix, Jimmy Allen, 35, said he'd recently been living in Denver, where recreational marijuana has been legal since December 2012. He said that while the quality of Colorado's pot was pretty good overall, there were occasional lapses in product quality. 

"I think you get a lot more dry, brown stuff," he said.

Hull said he was confident the research opportunities opened up by cannabis' new legitimacy ultimately will increase quality marketwide.

"Science will come to bring it to the next level," he said.

Dave Howard, 29, of Medford, said he's been smoking marijuana for longer than he can remember. "Probably since I was 13," he said. Howard said he expected that more people would use marijuana now that it's legal, but that many older adults he knows already smoked before Measure 91 passed in November. "Cops here have always been pretty chill," he said.

While Breeze Botanicals owner Brie Malarkey wasn't giving away marijuana herself, she was playing host to a number of other vendors who gathered in front of her shop to give away samples of their excess medical marijuana, drawing a crowd of hundreds that snaked well around the building before the giveaway started.

Standing beneath an awning with other vendors, Sandy Thompson of Sandy's Candies in Gold Hill said the event, called Free the Weed, was swamped from the get-go.

"At least 100 people have gone through," she said less than 20 minutes after the event began at 2 p.m. Thompson, 69, said she'd been making marijuana edibles since the 1970s but began selling them to medical marijuana dispensaries once the state began licensing them.

Malarkey had her hands full giving away tickets to lines of eager celebrants who exchanged them for samples from vendors.  

"Remember, don't medicate until you get home," Malarkey yelled to the endless line of eager visitors. "We're going to staple your bag for you."

She said people began lining up at the event as early as 6 a.m.  

"I was lucky to get here when I did," said Percy Lawrence of Rogue River, who said the line already stretched around the building's corner when he arrived at 1 p.m.

Heading into the vendor tent with a bag of tickets for samples, Rogers said that while he can understand the need to crack down on violent drug traffickers, the legalization of marijuana for most purposes was long overdue.

"This year is a great year in politics," he said, pointing to both the legalization of marijuana in Oregon and the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision recognizing gay marriage. "And I'm not a big fan of politics."

Reach reporter Thomas Moriarty at 541-776-4471 or tmoriarty@mailtribune.com. Follow him at @ThomasDMoriarty.

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Wheelchair athletes Ryan Prioleau, 29, left, and Derrick Lee, 30, were among the celebrants at Breeze Botanicals. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell
People in line at Breeze Botanicals in Ashland celebrate the first day of legal recreational marijuana Wednesday. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennelll