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Big crowds in San Diego as legal recreational marijuana sales begin in California

Big crowds in San Diego as legal recreational marijuana sales begin in California
On the first day of recreational marijuana sales in San Diego, Genesiee Cervantes with Urbn Leaf assisted Billy Johnson with his selections. (Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

And you thought Starbucks got crowded.

Before dawn Monday, lines began to form outside of many of San Diego's licensed marijuana stores and they soon snaked partway around buildings on the first day of legal recreational cannabis sales in California.

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Everyone from older people in leisure suits to a young man in pajamas got in line, where some waited upward of an hour to buy such things as pre-rolled joints, topical creams and foods infused with marijuana.

Urbn Leaf, which operates stores in Bay Park and Golden Hill, rented a 40-foot bus to bring customers in from a bar in Pacific Beach. The company also had 31 drivers making deliveries in San Diego, which is currently the only part of the county where recreational cannabis can be sold.

"We can deliver marijuana in 20 minutes; it's like pizza," said Will Senn, co-founder of Urbn Leaf.

He surveyed the line outside of his Bay Park store and said, "This is crazy. We hoped for big crowds, and prepared. But we didn't expect this."

By noon Monday, the store had served more than 350 customers.

"We're at capacity inside, we have 75 people in line, and the line is getting longer," Senn said.

Farther north, Torrey Holistics in Sorrento Valley had greeted at least 250 customers by 9 a.m., and it was dealing with a long line. Business also was brisk at A Green Alternative, a small shop in Otay Mesa, four blocks from the U.S.-Mexico border.

"We're going to have three times the normal number of customers today," said Zach Lazarus, the store's co-founder. "The stigma of marijuana is going away."

At 6:30 a.m., Richard Gold stood in the dark, and lingering fog, waiting for the 7 a.m. opening.

"This is historic, and I wanted to be the first person in line," said Gold, who lives in Lemon Grove.

California has been both a leader and a lagger when it come to cannabis.

In 1996, it became the first state to approve medical marijuana, legislation that has since spread to almost 30 other states.

But California trailed four other states in approving recreational marijuana, which is also known as "adult use" cannabis.

California joined the list in November 2016 when voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 64, which made it legal for people to possess and grow a small amount of cannabis. The law also made it legal to sell so-called "adult use" weed in licensed shops.

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Counties and communities were given the right to opt out, and about 70% of California's counties and cities did ban the commercial sale or cultivation, or both, of marijuana. But many cities embraced it — notably San Diego, which approved a supply chain for the cultivation, manufacture, testing and sale of cannabis.

Nearly 12 stores in San Diego were awarded licenses for recreational marijuana, including Torrey Holistics in Sorrento Valley, where a big crowed turned out early Monday, creating a line more than 60 people long.

"We've turned this into a celebration to make it go smoothly," said Ruthie Edelson, the store's marketing director. "We're having raffles, live music and food."

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