Last summer, some friends visiting from the Southwest were full of questions about what it was like for us Washingtonians to come out of the shadows and just buy marijuana over the counter, like civilized people. I didn’t know, even though I voted for Initiative 502 to legalize recreational marijuana. When my friends tried to buy, they found that none of the area’s recreational stores were stocked. I suspect they left the land of marijuana legalization a bit disappointed.
If only I’d known then what I know now: It is ridiculously easy to buy weed at some medical dispensaries in Seattle, without going through the hassle of getting a doctor’s authorization.
Sunday’s editorial refers to a Seattle Times writer purchasing 2 grams of marijuana for $20 at two out of three random dispensaries without a so-called “green card” authorization. Yes, that was me.
Store No. 1
I’ve never purchased marijuana in my life, and made no attempts to cover up that fact when I entered the 420 Collective on Rainier Avenue South. I’d driven by the shop when it was a nail supply store with its windows completely covered up. The place was so shady looking even back then I never ventured in to get a manicure. It was hardly surprising to see the sign change to “Medical Cannabis Health Services.” A second sign, with a giant marijuana leaf, pointed toward the store’s rear entrance.
I walked into what appeared to be a waiting room similar to a doctor’s office. Three friendly guys saw me and opened the door to the room with “the goods.” The place reminded me of a candy shop — except instead of bright gumballs, there were big jars on the counter with the most unappetizing looking wads of weed.
A big man behind the counter asked what I was looking for and how much I wanted to spend. He said he could work something out for about $15 a gram, and proceeded to open up a bunch of jars for me to smell. Quite the salesman, that guy. I said I only wanted to spend $10. He said he would work something out. One of the other guys asked if I was planning to smoke on my own. I said no.
As they weighed my order, I asked if I needed to have a medical license. Yes, they said.
I told them I didn’t have one. They seemed to pause, so I said, “What if I’m gonna get one?”
One of the guys asked how old I was. I replied truthfully. Their responses included a variation of “What? You look way younger than that!” and “No way.” (Uh, thank you?)
“Just as long as you’re of age,” one guy said. I asked one more time, “I’m supposed to have a license?” The seller behind the counter gave me the equivalent of a wink and a nod and said something like, “Yeah, but it’s okay this time.”
They never asked for proof of age. Within a few minutes, I left with $10 and a gram of “cherry pie” in a sandwich bag.
Store No. 2:
The moment I walked in The Green Door, located next to a Taiwanese boba shop on South Jackson Street, I just knew I wasn’t going to get far. A big gold sticker outside the entrance listed the King County Sheriff’s Office as an ally. There was a members-only sign to the left. I had to be buzzed into a small waiting room with a bank-teller type window. On the other side a guy with dreads, asked what I wanted. I didn’t see any pot visible, so I just asked if I could purchase something without a license.
He said no, and suggested I try other shops. If they didn’t work, he told me to try Cannabis City, Seattle’s first legal recreational marijuana store.
So I walked three doors down to the next shop.
Store No. 3:
Walking those few steps made me feel nostalgic. Growing up, my family would come up to this plaza in Little Saigon for Vietnamese food. We spent many a meal at Huong Binh. Today, that restaurant is right next to a new dispensary called “Seattle Caregivers.”
At first, I thought the shop wasn’t open because its windows were covered up, as if it were being remodeled, but the door opened. There is a big sparse waiting room with a window and an unlocked door to yet another room where the marijuana is on full display. The salesman invited me in and asked me to excuse the mess. I noticed dozens of small jars of weed on the counters and in the display case. I told him I just wanted a little, like a gram. About $10 worth. He said he could work with that.
I told him I didn’t know much about this stuff and would take his recommendation. He knew I was not purchasing just for me because he said something like, “Does she know what she’s doing? Or maybe it’s a he?”
I felt like I was reliving that moment I’d had barely 20 minutes earlier at the 420 Collective. This guy started to weigh a gram of marijuana on a digital scale. I asked if I needed a medical license, because I didn’t have one. He said yeah, but did I have my driver’s license? He’d just need to see that. I said it was in the car and started stepping back as if I was leaving to get my wallet (which was true).
Before I could even turn around, he said, “That’s okay. What year were you born?” Again, I told him the truth. “Oh, so you’re 32? You’re older than me!” he said lightheartedly. Nope, I said. “I’m 33.”
I handed him the cash, and he gave me a bag of weed. The flavor? Pineapple express.
As I drove home following this random experiment, all I could do was ask myself, Why did these guys have to make it so easy, especially if they thought I looked too young? What if I were an underage kid?
The point is that two of the three stores didn’t seem to care who they sold to. I’m sure not all medical dispensaries are staffed by careless bad apples, but it’s disturbing to see some dispensaries making a quick buck with impunity. As the editorial stated, the two businesses that sold to me did not have so much as a business license to operate. I’m also disturbed that, the less affluent the area, the more ubiquitous these green medical signs seem to be. What’s up with that? As if this is an activity only immigrants and low-income folks partake in?
I was one of those voters who happily checked the box to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012. Having dealers move their operations from the black market to the medical dispensaries is not what I — or other voters — had in mind.