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Washington State's legal pot shops open for business

First Retail Marijuana Stores Open In Washington State

David Ryder/Getty Images

Customers shop for marijuana at Top Shelf Cannabis, a retail marijuana store, on July 8, 2014 in Bellingham, Washington. Top Shelf Cannabis was the first retail marijuana store to open today in Washington state, nearly a year and a half after the state's voters chose to legalize marijuana.

Rethinking Pot Washington

Elaine Thompson/AP

Cannabis City owner James Lathrop briefly leans against the exterior of his new recreational marijuana store Monday, July 7, 2014, in Seattle. The shop will be the first and, initially, only store in Seattle to legally sell recreational pot when sales begin Tuesday.

Rethinking Pot Washington

Elaine Thompson/AP

Cannabis City owner James Lathrop gestures as he stands in the middle of his new marijuana shop days before the grand opening Wednesday, July 2, 2014, in Seattle. Empty display cases behind him are expected to be filled with pot for sale beginning Tuesday, July 8, the first day that recreational marijuana can legally be sold in Washington state. Lathrop is expected to be the first licensed retailer in Seattle.

Today, Washington State becomes the second state in the U.S. — after Colorado — to allow the sale of cannabis for recreational use. 

Yesterday, the state began issuing licenses to vendors, but the rollout in the Evergreen State already looks much different than it did in Colorado.

"Colorado had an existing medical marijuana system that was regulated, so they had a built in," said  Derek Wang of public radio station KUOW. "They could basically switch over to their recreational system."

In Washington State on the other hand, they had to start from scratch. They had to learn about pot, how to do background checks, which business models might work best, because not just anyone can grow, distribute and sell weed.

Also, Washington issued its legal pot licenses via a lottery system, without giving already open medicinal marijuana businesses a competitive edge. More than 2,000 people applied for retail licenses, while only about 334 were actually issued.

"There are three different licenses. One for retailers, another for processors, and a different one for growers," said Wang. "For retail applicants, people had to submit business plans, they had to talk about security measures, and I think at the processors level and retail level they had to have their facilities inspected."

These regulations caused delays for some businesses. In Seattle, with a population of around 634,000 people, only one store open for business on day one. 

Cannabis City, located in the industrial SODO neighborhood, is the sole legal pot shop in Seattle ready to open its doors on Tuesday. The shop's owner, James Lathrop, has been preparing through the night for the barrage of customers, setting up crowd control measures, ordering a portable toilet and hiring food trucks. 

The supply of legal weed is scarce. There have only been 440 pounds of marijuana grown so far this year because the licenses to grow weren't handed out until March and it takes at least four months to grow pot.

Regardless, people are coming from around the country says Wang. Even though only five retail shops have opened up in Washington state.

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