Companies began selling pot in a relatively small number of businesses Monday, with more expected to join in the coming days and weeks.
The state has issued dozens of permits for retailers to begin recreational sales this week, expanding a market that is expected to grow to $7 billion annually by 2020. Several of those retailers are in West Hollywood, but they won't open until Tuesday at the city's request. That makes Santa Ana's licensed stores the closest option for Angelenos who want to buy recreational marijuana on New Year's Day. Buyers could also trek to San Diego or the Palm Springs area to purchase a pot.
To sell cannabis commercially in January — for recreational or medical use — marijuana businesses must have local approval and a state license. Existing medical marijuana dispensaries have been given first priority for recreational sales.
The city of Los Angeles has yet to start issuing local licenses to pot shops, which stirred unease among some existing medical marijuana dispensaries that have been following city rules.
Hundreds of customers — everyone from older people in leisure suits to a young man in pajamas got in line — waited upwards of an hour to buy such things as pre-rolled joints to topical creams and foods infused with marijuana.
Urbn Leaf, which operates stores in Bay Park and Golden Hill, rented a 40-foot bus to bring customers in from a bar in Pacific Beach. The company also had 31 drivers making deliveries in San Diego, which is currently the only part of the county where recreational cannabis can be sold.
"We can deliver marijuana in 20 minutes; it's like pizza," said Will Senn, co-founder of Urbn Leaf. He surveyed the line outside of his Bay Park store and said, "This is crazy. We hoped for big crowds, and prepared. But we didn't expect this."
By noon Monday, the store had served more than 350 customers, more than it serves all day. "We're at capacity inside, we have 75 people in line, and the line is getting longer. We would get as many as 1,000 people by the end of the day."
Johnny Hernandez, a tattoo artist from Modesto, celebrated by smoking "Happy New Year blunts" with his cousins. "This is something we've all been waiting for. It is something that can help so many people and there's no reason why we should not be sharing that."
Hernandez said he hoped the legalization of recreational marijuana would help alleviate the remaining stigma some still believe surrounds marijuana use: "People might actually realize weed isn't bad. It helps a lot of people," he said.
Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin and state Sen. Nancy Skinner were on hand for a ribbon-cutting ceremony as his city began selling marijuana legally. Customers began lining up before dawn Monday outside the Berkeley Patients Group, one of the oldest dispensaries in the nation. A big crowd also gathered at the Harborside dispensary in nearby Oakland.
Heather Sposeto came to Sacramento's Northstar Holistic Collective with her boyfriend, Matthew Wilcox, to check out the hype around California's newly legalized marijuana.
The 50-year-old Sposeto doesn't smoke pot, but said she's considering starting now that it became legal at 12:01 a.m. Monday. She said being in the dispensary, with counters of options ranging from chocolate to bud, felt "surreal."
Jeff Deakin waited all night outside Harborside with his wife and dog. The 66-year-old says it's a big deal that they can buy cannabis while feeling safe and secure, without having to make the purchase in a back alley.
California's Bureau of Cannabis Control is continuing to review applications and approve licenses after retail sales of marijuana became legal on the New Year's Day holiday.
"We are excited. We just got our state license on Saturday … so immediately there was the extra energy in everyone's step," said Robert Taft Jr., founder of the medical marijuana dispensary 420 Central in Santa Ana. "Being part of history is an amazing thing."
Taft said he brought in five new cash registers and hired six additional "bud tenders" in preparation for the new law. He also doubled his inventory and consulted with his attorneys daily to ensure his store was in full compliance. Taft has also increased the store's security, adding 24-hour armed guards. Selling recreational marijuana is an all-cash business.
Kiloh, president of the United Cannabis Business Assn., now says his dispensary will be able to continue providing medical marijuana to patients in January by operating as a "collective" until it has received state and local licenses. After weighing their legal options, most of the marijuana shops in his group are operating the same way, Kiloh said.