SEATTLE — Washington state issued its first retail marijuana licenses Monday with a middle-of-the-night email alerting bleary-eyed pot-shop proprietors that they'll finally be able to open for business.
"We're pretty stoked," said John Evich, an investor in Bellingham's Top Shelf Cannabis. "We haven't had any sleep in a long time, but we're excited for the next step."
Randy Simmons, the state Liquor Control Board's project manager for legal marijuana, said Sunday night the first two dozen stores were being notified so early to give them an extra few hours to get cannabis on their shelves before they are allowed to open their doors at 8 a.m. Tuesday. The store openings are expected to be accompanied by high prices, shortages and celebration.
The state licensed 14 stores in western Washington and 10 in eastern Washington.
Spokane has three stores. Vancouver, Tacoma and Bellingham each have two. Seattle and the other cities on the list have one each.
The issuance of the retail licenses marked a major step that's been 20 months in the making. Washington state and Colorado voted 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.
Officials eventually expect to have more than 300 recreational pot shops across Washington state.
Pot prices were expected to reach $25 a gram or higher on the first day of sales — twice what people pay in 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.
At Cannabis City, which will be the first and, for now, only recreational marijuana shop in Seattle, owner James Lathrop worked into the night Sunday to get ready.
He planned to hold off on opening his store until noon on Tuesday.
"Know your audience: We're talking stoners here," he said. "I'd be mean to say they need to get up at 5 a.m. to get in line."
With the emailed notifications in hand, the shops immediately worked to place their orders with some of the state's first licensed growers. As soon as the orders were received, via state-approved software for tracking the bar-coded pot, the growers could place the product in a required 24-hour "quarantine" before shipping it early Tuesday morning.