July 8, 2014 at 11:50 pm

Washington's high hopes for legal pot sales begin

Critics don't like the hype, say more advice needed

A customer sniffs a strain of pot at Top Shelf Cannabis in Bellingham, Wash., during the first day of legal sales in the state. Customers can't get samples, but are allowed to use 'sniff jars' to help make their purchasing decisions. (Ted S. Warren / AP)

Bellingham, Wash. — Surrounded by thousands of packages of marijuana, Seattle’s top prosecutor needed some advice: Which one should he buy?

A new day, indeed.

Twenty months after voters legalized recreational cannabis for adults over 21, Washington state’s first few licensed pot shops opened for business Tuesday, catering to hundreds of customers who lined up outside, thrilled to be a part of the historic moment.

The pot being sold at a handful of stores in Seattle, Bellingham, Prosser and Spokane was regulated, tested for impurities, heavily taxed and in short supply — such short supply that several other shops couldn’t open because they had nothing to sell.

Pete Holmes, Seattle’s elected city attorney and a main backer of the state’s recreational marijuana law, said he wanted to be one of the first customers to demonstrate there are alternatives to the nation’s failed drug war.

“This is a tectonic shift in public policy,” he said. “You have to honor it. This is real. This is legal. This is a wonderful place to purchase marijuana where it’s out of the shadows.”

Dressed in a pinstripe suit, Holmes stood inside Seattle’s first and, for now, only licensed pot shop, Cannabis City.

Unsure what to buy, he asked the owner of the company that grew it, Nine Point Growth Industries of Bremerton, who recommended OG’s Pearl. The strain tested at 21.5 percent THC, marijuana’s main psychoactive compound.

Holmes noted it had been quite some time since he smoked pot. He paraphrased a line from the “South Park” cartoon series: “Remember, children, there’s a time and place for everything. That place is college.”

He spent $80 on 4 grams, including $20.57 in taxes.

Washington is the second state to allow marijuana sales without a doctor’s note. Voters in Colorado also legalized pot in 2012, and sales began there Jan. 1.

The hype surrounding the pot shop openings was unwelcome in some quarters.

Derek Franklin, head of the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention, said it can “normalize” marijuana use for children. He lamented that the state only recently scraped together some money for a digital and radio advertising campaign to urge parents to talk to their children about marijuana.