Midnight marijuana: Nevada celebrates first legal sales

Recreational marijuana will be legal to purchase in Nevada starting July 1. Jason Bean

A sense of jubilee was in the air midnight Saturday, and so too was the occasional whiff of Nevada's newest cash crop.

Hundreds of Nevadans stood in line at midnight and throughout the day Saturday as Nevada became the fifth state in the U.S. to have legal recreational marijuana sales.

"Right at 12:01 a.m., they already have my transaction ready so that I can be the first in the state," said Todd Weatherhead, the first person in line at Sierra Wellness Connection in Reno. 

Weatherhead, a cultivation and production manager at a Reno cultivation facility, High Sierra Holistics, had been waiting in line since 4:20 p.m. Friday, he said.

"Number one, number one!" he yelled, holding up a victorious finger as he walked away with one of the state's first purchases, if not the first.

Inside the dispensaries, "budtenders" took wads of cash in exchange for tightly sealed, opaque white Ziploc bags containing everything from joints to gummies to oils.

As eager patrons jaunted in one by one, Sierra Wellness started running out of $1 bills, requiring a visit to a men's club down the street for more change.

For Weatherhead, the night was a dream come true since he's gone through a number of troubles -- including jail and a house raid -- because of his enthusiasm for weed.

He purchased a gram of "sour kush," which he plans to frame alongside his receipt. 

Nevada history

Although Nevadan voters approved Question 2 to legalize recreational marijuana in November, voters twice before had proved themselves not quite ready.

Nevada had the chance to become the first state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2002, but voters turned it down. In 2006, they repeated themselves.

In November, voters turned the tables and approved Question 2, allowing anyone 21 and older with a valid ID to buy up to an ounce of pot and one-eighth of an ounce of concentrate.

In Reno, four dispensaries -- including Sierra Wellness, Blüm, The Dispensary and Mynt -- are now selling recreational marijuana, and up to 40 statewide are estimated to have their licenses, the Associated Press reported. All of the Reno dispensaries had lines around the building Saturday, throughout the day.

"We are the new Amsterdam. We are the new Denver. Nevada is going to be the gold standard for marijuana starting at midnight," said Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, who is known among industry leaders as the "Cannabis King" or the "Godfather of marijuana" in Nevada.

Segerblom made the first purchase at The Source dispensary at a strip mall in Las Vegas, according to the Associated Press. Segerblom was a key proponent of Nevada executing what is now the fastest turnaround between a vote and sales, faster than the other states that voted to legalize in November.

California, Maine and Massachusetts will be following suit soon, in the footsteps of Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska, but Nevada could see the most hefty out-of-the-gate sales of any state so far.

The millions of tourists who visit Reno, Las Vegas and other Nevada cities every year are expected to account for about two-thirds of the purchases.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval has budgeted $69 million in revenue from the industry in the next two years. Money from the 15 percent cultivation tax on all marijuana product in the state will go toward schools, and the 10 percent tax collected from recreational marijuana upon sale will go toward the state's rainy day fund.

Even opponents of the industry are optimistic that the black market will suffocate. Not only does the state make no money off the black market, but state resources are spent policing it and the crime that surrounds it. 

Ron Butterfield, 23, said he's been smoking pot for years, buying it from street dealers, and Saturday was his first time entering a dispensary.

"I'm ready to get some good stuff, tired of all the dirt. Good day when it opens up the same morning as food stamps," said Butterfield, who said that he's accustomed to buying marijuana on the streets.

One time, he and his friend were maced by a dealer, he said. They walked away with burning eyes and nothing to show for it.

"You feel a lot safer going into one of these. No one is going to rip (your purchase) out of your hands," he said.

While the prices could be a problem for him, he intends to return on paycheck days.

"Those days when you only got $10, I may not come here," he said.

Green rush

The lines were longest during the midnight celebration, which translated to five to seven hour wait times for some of the most dedicated. Sierra Wellness ended up buying donuts on the house for everyone in line at the time.

By mid-morning, wait times were down to an hour at some locations.

"People are pretty mellow, they're happy," said Kris Tracy, a security guard at the The Dispensary who was tasked parking assistance and making sure no one tried to go through the dumpsters looking for disposed pot, even though dispensaries don't throw their remnants in the garbage. "I don't personally use (cannabis) myself, but I saw it benefit my sister when she had cancer and my oldest son who has anxiety. I'm all for it." 

Those standing in line were of all backgrounds. Some were in tie-dye, others in t-shirts with Teddy Bears smoking from a bong or cannabis leaves. A few wore suits and some looked like they had just left a day at the office.

"Anyone got a hacky sack?" someone asked as another person played a bluesy riff on a harmonica in the winding line outside Sierra Wellness.

Honking cars elicited joyful cheers from the crowds. Harley bikers were in line along moms in flower dresses, and some people even came with family members.

Reno's Alisha White, 38, stood in the line at Sierra Wellness to show moral support for her brother and daughter even though she doesn't smoke.

“My daughter started to have seizures two years ago,” she said. “I gave her some marijuana, and it helped her.

“Marijuana helps people in pain. I’ve watched it change people’s lives.”

Looking forward

Many of the middle-aged attendees who stood in line on Saturday feel like they've waited forever for July 1. 

"You always had to hide it," said Randy McCuster, 60, who's been smoking since the age of 13. "I smoked pot in the basement and it would come up out of the sink and my mom would stomp on the floor... She was something."

They have watched as marijuana has become more accepted, and they hope the trend continues, though .

At Mynt dispensary downtown, 22-year-old Trevor Watson said Saturday was “a huge step for this state and for states everywhere.”

“I really believe that this is going to be one of the head charges of the real cannabis movement,” he said while waiting in line in the mid-morning sun. “I believe that it’s going to spread from here, over east and back west. Just to have all this energy right here is amazing.”

For many, it may serve as motivation to move to or stay in Nevada.

Reno resident Amanda Brand moved from Washington just after the state legalized recreational marijuana. The 34-year-old said she has been “waiting for this day” in Nevada as she stood in the block-long line at Mynt.

“I have anxiety and depression problems, and it’s so nice that now I can just walk in and admit that I have these issues and I can get help,” she said.

“For people that don’t like psychotics, this will be a nice change.”

Others are hopeful that the state will take initiative and improve the state's roads and schools. As an established host of vices, Nevada -- from a cultural perspective -- may not shift drastically.

"I don't think much will change. I think anyone that wanted to smoke it knew where to find it," said Jordan Chaffin, 24, who stood in line Saturday mid-morning at the Dispensary.

Chaffin occasionally smokes marijuana, but he walked to the pot shop because it was a block from where he lives and he felt it was a "momentous occasion" in Nevada's history.

Weatherhead, who later visited Blum dispensary and then was the first in line 8 a.m. Saturday at the Dispensary, said he hoped that the taxes collected would help the schools. He also predicted one more change: More folks with munchies. 

"Taco Bells, McDonald's -- they're going to double their business in Nevada," he said.

© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved


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