The jewel-toned bongs, each handcrafted from recycled glass, glowed in the soft lighting of the pristine little storefront. The "Grand Opening Event" banner was hung. The DJ was hired. The no-parking signs were posted along the busy street.
The only thing missing Monday afternoon was the marijuana. But 10 pounds of prime, pesticide-free pot are scheduled to arrive just hours before Cannabis City flings open its doors at "high noon" on Tuesday, becoming the first legal recreational weed retailer in Washington state's biggest city.
At just after 1 a.m. on Monday, an official email landed in owner James Lathrop's in-box, confirming that the serial entrepreneur and pot enthusiast had been licensed to sell what was formerly contraband in every state in America but Colorado.
The electronic missive (and 24 others like it sent out to pot pioneers in the dark of night by the Washington State Liquor Control Board) was filled with bureaucratic boilerplate and official instructions. Its tone was far from celebratory. But it began with two magic words: "Dear Licensee."
Lathrop's Cannabis City was one of just 25Ö establishments licensed Monday by Evergreen State officials, as they kicked off the final stage of a grand experiment — building an industry from the ground up.
Colorado, which has allowed the sale of recreational pot since Jan. 1, had an easier introduction; its highly regulated medical marijuana system was simply broadened, allowing registered owners to expand into party pot. Outsiders could not even apply for licenses to break into the business until last week.
Not all of Washington's newly licensed stores are expected to be open Tuesday, the earliest that retail pot purveyors can sell their wares. Long lines and product shortages are expected here, as the much-ballyhooed marijuana economy groans to life.
"We're going to run out on the first day," Lathrop said in a recent interview, as he fielded media requests, shooed away early-bird shoppers and put the finishing touches on his establishment.
What exactly does that mean, in terms of Day 1 customers? Cannabis City's first delivery "has been divided up into 2-gram packages," Lathrop said. "Ten pounds, 2-gram packages is around 2,200. So the first 2,200 people, which will probably be the first day."
Lathrop doesn't plan to ration the four strains of pot that he will be selling in his new venture: Opal O.G. Kush and Copper Kush, O.G.'sÖ Pearl and Sweet Lafayette. Although consumers can legally buy an ounce of the high-THC weed, he's hoping they will limit themselves to a single bag.
"It'll be $15 to $20 a gram, that should be including taxes," the goateed pot purveyor said. "There are many people who are kind of blogging on the Internet that those aren't really reasonable prices, because they are twice as much or so as street prices or medical marijuana prices."
But his wares are "all organic," he said, tested by the Liquor Control Board, of certified strength and purity. And best of all, "it's legal."
Though demand is expected to be high, supply will probably be low for the foreseeable future. Alison Holcomb, the American Civil Liberties Union attorney who drafted the initiative that legalized marijuana here, said Monday that "less than 30% of the square footage" of marijuana plants that the state will allow has been licensed.
Although Cannabis City is tucked away on a busy thoroughfare in a slowly improving industrial neighborhood called SoDo, Lathrop has high hopes for his establishment's ambience. So what if a nearby recycling plant perfumes the back alley with eau de trash. Who cares if fast-food joints crowd in nearby, McDonald's and Arby's, Denny's and KFC, doughnuts and pho and teriyaki.
"We really wanted this to be a beautiful space," Lathrop said, and he put $40,000 into renovating a building that used to be "a hell hole." One wall is paneled with cedar. There are exposed beams and soft lighting. "SoDo is rough.... We wanted, when you come in here, for this to be a proper Seattle place."