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Seattle Times coverage of pot policy, culture and lifestyle.

July 8, 2014 at 10:48 AM

Bellingham pot store manager: ‘Who feels like a drug dealer now? I don’t’

Cale Holdsworth of Kansas celebrates buying the first bag of pot at Top Shelf in Bellingham.  Photo by Times staff photographer Mark Harrison

Cale Holdsworth of Kansas celebrates buying the first bag of pot at Top Shelf in Bellingham. Photo by Times staff photographer Mark Harrison

Cale Holdsworth was the most popular man in Bellingham this morning.

The 29-year-old from Kansas, who’s in Washington visiting family, showed up to Top Shelf Cannabis about 4 a.m. with his girlfriend, Sarah Gorton, making them the first in line to buy pot legally in a retail shop.

“I’m excited,” said Holdsworth about 6:30 a.m., sitting outside of Top Shelf, now with a few dozen people lined up behind him. “I’ve supported this cause for a long time.”

Meanwhile, as reporters hounded Holdsworth and Gorton for interviews, Top Shelf employees scrambled inside the shop to meticulously count boxes filled with two-gram packages of marijuana from their first shipment, which they had picked up from a processor in Bremerton only hours before, preparing to open right at 8 a.m. — the moment it became legal to do so.

“We have to make sure that we get it all counted and get it counted perfectly,” said Sigrid Williams, a manager at Top Shelf. “If we mess it up, the Liquor Control Board will have our heads.”

She passed off a white, 13-gallon garbage bag full of inventoried product to another employee.

“Who feels like a drug dealer now?” she said with a laugh. “I don’t.”

Manager Sigrid Williams counts the product in preparation for Top Shelf to open. Photo by Andy Mannix.

Just after 8 a.m., Holdsworth entered the shop. With dozens of photographers and reporters watching his every move, Holdsworth scanned samples of the product, displayed in sealed glass containers with screened tops called “sniffers.”

He decided on a strain called OG’s Pearl and walked up to the register. After making his purchase, he held up his pot triumphantly in a brown paper bag for all to see, eliciting a round of applause from others in the room.

“This is a great moment,” he told the crowd. “I think it’s a great step forward … I’m thrilled to be a part of this. It’s awesome.”

And like the Neil Armstrong of legal marijuana purchasers in Washington, Holdsworth had done it: With $26.60 (tax included) Holdsworth became one of the first people to buy weed from a Washington retail shop. A shop in Prosser also opened at 8 a.m.

By 9 a.m., more than 100 people were in line for Top Shelf, all wanting to be part of the historic day, and employees for the shop hustled to keep up.

“I don’t know when we’re gonna stop, when we’re gonna slow down,” said Zack Henifin, co-manager of Top Shelf, as he filled handwritten orders from a large metal vault behind the registers.

“Do we have any Sativas yet?” a cashier shouted back to Henifin.

“Let me grab my sheet,” he replied, disappearing for a moment and reemerging shaking his head. “Tell him later today there will be.”

The shop had four strains on hand this morning: OG’s Pearl ($26.50 after tax for two grams), Copper Kush ($36), Sweet Lafayette ($40) and Opal OG Kush ($44).

Top Shelf planned to get more than 20 pounds in three shipments Tuesday, Henifin said, though in the hectic pace of the morning he’d lost track of exactly how much. Originally, the shop managers only intended to sell in two-gram increments, but after an initial smaller-than-expected showing, managers decided to sell up to an ounce, which is the largest quantity allowed under state law.

The event attracted an eclectic crowd of Washingtonians. Lori Bradford and Ellen McCauley, a married couple from California, said they recently moved to the state in part because of the new marijuana laws. McCauley said she came out Tuesday morning because she was running low on supply. Both women said they planned to buy an ounce.

“Marriage only recently became legal, so I never thought I’d see either of these things in our lifetime,” said McCauley.

Julian Rodriguez and his 65-year-old mother, Ramona, also were among the first in line.

“I’ve always been a supporter of marijuana,” said Julian. “I honestly got in trouble for it in my younger days, and I just appreciate that I don’t have to worry about that anymore.”

Ramona, who bought two grams, said she’s been smoking since she was 18. This was the first time she took part in a transaction that ended with the question: “Receipt in the bag?”

“I feel great,” she said. “I think it’s one of the best things that’s ever happened in the state of Washington.”

Late Tuesday afternoon, an employee for Top Shelf said they still had plenty of product in stock, and might be getting another shipment in by the end of the day. The shop will stay open until midnight.

Two-and-a-half miles across town, competitor 2020 Solutions was not having such a lucrative launch. Though the shop planned to open today, the company announced last night that they would not have product in time after all, citing “regulatory snags.”

Around 11:30 a.m., employees stood outside 2020’s doors offering coffee and donuts to those who came hoping to buy weed, sending them to Top Shelf. The shop will likely be stocked with product by Thursday, said general manager Aaron Nelson.

Andy Mannix: On twitter: @andrewmannix

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