By Daniel Neman, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS).
Steve Campbell was ready with a joke. Campbell was the first person at the Good Day Farm marijuana dispensary in the Central West End on the first day recreational-use marijuana was sold in Missouri.
He walked through the door to applause from staff. But Campbell, 67, had a confused look on his face. “This isn’t St. Louis Bread Co.?” he asked.
“I did not believe this day would ever come,” Campbell said later. “I go back a long way, when it was very illegal and very scary, and people went to jail for a couple of joints.”
The days of such antics are over. This was the opening weekend for recreational marijuana sales in Missouri. On Friday, [Feb. 5, 2023] the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services issued licenses to 207 dispensaries across the state to legally sell cannabis to anyone over the age of 21. Licenses were also issued to 72 manufacturers and 56 cultivation facilities.
Licenses were only given to dispensaries, manufacturers and facilities already selling and making products for medical-use customers. The new legalization was part of Amendment 3, which Missouri voters passed in November.
Anticipation for the change was high. Marwa Babiker, operations manager at ViolaSTL in Downtown West, said an older man — she estimated he was about 90 — stopped in earlier in the week to ask if they were selling recreational-use pot.
Told it was not yet available, he returned at 11:30 a.m. Friday to ask again. The store had been issued a license by then, but it was not open for business. He returned again at noon, when they opened, to make his purchase.
The Health Department had given every indication that the licenses would not be issued until Monday. Most customers were confused to learn that recreational-use cannabis would actually be available beginning Friday, although many dispensaries had an inkling something might be up.
“We kind of figured,” said Chad Huelsman, manager of an N’Bliss dispensary near Manchester in unincorporated St. Louis County. “They had pushed it to the last minute, not telling anyone.
“Was I surprised they were doing it early? Absolutely not,” he said.
Huelsman said his store had been anticipating increased business from the new recreational-use customers, whether they came on Monday or before. The store was fully stocked and staffed and ready to go for the crowds he anticipated would come after work Friday and throughout the weekend.
One early N’Bliss customer, Jennifer Johndrow, of Cedar Hill in Jefferson County, said she had been planning to get a medical-use card for some time. When she heard Thursday night that recreational-use cannabis would be legal on Friday, she decided to look for a dispensary near her work in St. Louis County.
She bought one pre-rolled joint and 1/8 ounce of Acapulco Gold flower, which the salesperson — called a budtender — told her is good for relaxing after a day’s work and for soothing aches and pains.
“I’m excited to see if this helps my knees’ pain,” she said.
This was not the first time she had purchased marijuana, she said.
“It helps with my stress levels. It really does. It calms me down.”
At the Good Day Farm dispensary on Euclid Avenue, Channin Dawson, 45, picked up some flower, vape cartridges and edibles. The experience was nothing new to her. Until very recently she was a resident of Oregon, where recreational-use cannabis has been legal for eight years.
Dawson stopped in St. Louis to visit friends on her way to Cleveland, where she is moving.
“I stumbled into this, not realizing it was now a thing in Missouri,” she said. “It’s nice to be in a state that’s just like our home state, where it is legal to do whatever you want.”
The prices are good for the quality she got here, she said, and she was also impressed by the budtenders’ willingness to share their knowledge and expertise. In Oregon, she said, “they just want to get you in and out.”
Karon Marquita Watson, 69, came to the Good Day Farm store Friday to pick up her usual medical marijuana and was surprised by festive balloons and a line of about 10 people waiting outside. She did not realize that recreational use was already being allowed.
She was glad to hear the news. She said a doctor recently told her about a young teen who had died after smoking pot laced with fentanyl. She would never buy hers anywhere but at a dispensary, she said.
“It is important that the dispensaries are here. It’s safer, the quality is outstanding, there’s different strains. I think God put (marijuana) on Earth for many reasons,” she said.
Some customers couldn’t quite believe it. At ViolaSTL, Babiker, the manager, took a call: “Is it actual weed?”
“It’s actual weed,” she said with a laugh.
But it isn’t just actual weed. The highly potent flower of the female marijuana plant accounts for about 50% of the medical-marijuana sales at the 15-location Greenlight dispensaries, said company CEO John Mueller. Pre-rolled joints, which are essentially also just flower, make up another 10%, for a total of 60% of their sales.
Edibles such as THC-laced gummies, along with vape pen cartridges and concentrates make up most of the rest.
But based on his experience in other states, Mueller said he anticipates that recreational users will buy more edibles and vape cartridges. He predicted that sales in those categories will soon equal that of flower.
If the mood inside the dispensaries was generally celebratory on the first day of sales, the customers and staff weren’t the only ones feeling that way:
On radio station KDHX, disc jockey Andy Coco played marijuana-themed songs throughout his two-hour shift Friday. Among the songs were Peter Tosh’s “Legalize It,” Cypress Hill’s “I Wanna Get High,” Rick James’ “Mary Jane” and the Harlem Experiment’s version of “Reefer Man.”
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