In 2014, Washington made history as one of the first states (along with Colorado) to end marijuana prohibition. The journey from legalization to retail has been a lengthy and grueling process, made needlessly more complicated by the Liquor Control Board--a stubborn and frequently uninformed group of bureaucrats straight out of "Doctor Strangelove." It's not entirely clear why they've chosen this path, since Colorado seemed to nail the transition. Perhaps they bear residual bitterness regarding alcohol privatization in 2012. Whatever their reasons, they seem determined to maintain a vise-like grip over marijuana under the guise of protecting children from the demon weed. They also declared war on medical marijuana and won--all medical dispensaries will be shut down by July 2016. Select retail stores will be granted a license to dispense medical grade products, but at the loss of many privileges (too numerous and complex to explain in brief) that patients currently enjoy.
Seattle's Uncle Ike's (photo Luke S. Walker)
The cannabis landscape will no doubt continue to morph (hopefully for the better). But here's the rundown on the retail experience in its current incarnation. Adults 21+ show their I.D. to a guy at the door who resembles an extra from "Road House." You then enter a windowless building where you are greeted by a "budtender" (seriously), who gives you the lay of the land. You may purchase up to 1 ounce of "flower" (née weed), 16 ounces of infused edibles, 72 ounces of liquid, and 7 grams of marijuana concentrates. You pay your 37% sales tax on a $12-20 per gram base price. They place your goodies in a paper bag, and you proceed directly to the exit. The process retains an air of sordidness, made moreso by the ruling that stores can't be within 1000 feet of a school, public transit center, public park, day care, arcade, or library. In other words, most of the stores are in sketchy or desolate areas.
Seattle's Ganja Goddess (photo Adam Cohn)
Now, you'll probably want to toke up. As Vincent Vega would say, "it's legal, but it's not 100% legal." The law bans "public consumption," meaning the only place you can smoke is in your residence--so long as your name is on the deed. Renters are technically boned. Most people get around this by brazenly puffing in public anyway, since citations are designed to be elusive. Law enforcement is required to dispense several warnings before slapping you with a fine (up to $100). In the early days, a cop got in trouble for conspicuously targeting people of color and limited means. That wayward soul has since been confined to a desk.
Seattle's Uncle Ike's (photo Luke S. Walker)
Other essential info: It's illegal to take it out of state. Pay attention to recommended dosage on edibles. Always wait at least an hour (two is better) for it to kick in. Remember, you can always eat more, but you can never eat less. Sativas tend to give you an energetic head high and Indicas are for winding down the day with an episode of "Game of Thrones." The lines at the stores have subsided and supply and demand has leveled so buying weed legally has actually started to become the rather pleasant experience we were promised. People can afford to be picky about where they shop and even get uppity about the little things on that website that rhymes with "help."
Budtender at Seattle's Ganja Goddess (photo Adam Cohn)
Uncle Ike's Pot Shop
is the best bet for the cost-conscious everyman. They update their menu daily online and the budtenders know their stuff. It reads like a wine list at a cool bistro. They also have one or two strains for $8 a gram, which is by far the cheapest deal in town. Ganja Goddess
is for the folks looking for the shopping "experience." The all-female budtender staff are renowned for their savvy and savior faire alike. The space itself has a very hipster, gastropub feel to it with exposed brick and low lights. Their edibles include high-end items like macaroons and sea salt chocolates.
Seattle's Cannabis City (photo Adam Cohn)
was the first retail store in the city, which ended up being a curse as much as a blessing for them. They got all the initial business but then pissed off a lot of folks for running out of stock and setting higher price points than people thought reasonable. Now, with other places shouldering some of the demand, they've become a decent little shop. Their prices include tax so you're not surmised by a huge gouging at checkout. Eastsiders wanna get high too. At BelMar
, they can do it without having to drive into icky Seattle and shop with the common people. Their average price is $20 a gram but the Bellevue nouveau stoners love it and don't mind plunking down $13 for a snickerdoodle.