25 Things to Expect in Newly Legal States

Published on November 17, 2016 · Last updated July 28, 2020
Medical marijuana. Therapeutic and medicinal cannabis.

So your state just voted to legalize. What can you expect? A long wait for retail stores or dispensaries to open, certainly. High prices, high taxes, and sketchy-quality product at first. Over time, though, those prices will fall and product quality will rise. Taxes? Those you may be stuck with, my friends.

To give residents of newly legal states an idea of what to expect, we asked people who’ve lived through the process in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon to recall their joys, their frustrations, and the most surprising aspects of legalization. We got a flood of responses:

1. Your first retail cannabis experience will be amazing.

Delight: that first moment walking into a legal cannabis store in your own city.

— Will Hyde

Unbelievable: When the stores opened and you could walk in and just purchase cannabis. Frankly, I think I died a couple of years ago and I have just been in a glorious purgatory ever since.

— Alex Baur

Expect it to take a few shopping trips before you don’t feel slightly sketchy and glance over your shoulder to see whether anyone sees you walking into a dispensary.

— Brett Konen

5 questions to ask that help your budtender help you

I was a budtender when the first retail shops opened in Seattle. The beautiful thing about the newness of legalization was the opportunity to reframe perceptions. Engaging with the weirdness of buying cannabis over the counter was part of it. I always enjoyed saying “Yeah dude, you don’t have to know a secret handshake or saunter down a dark alley or sit in my car in a grocery store parking lot.”

— Jeremiah Wilhelm

I’m astounded at how quickly something can go from being sold in a covert manner to having all these snazzy little boutique shops around. I find the packaging kind of charming, homemade and arty with clever names for the strains. It seems like many small business are supported, it’s not yet a big corporate production.

— Jennifer Whitney

I love the whole experience now. We used to go out behind the local game room to buy a joint from a greasy long-haired dude in an “I’m With Stupid” t-shirt. Now, it’s like going into the wine boutique. From the Edison light bulbs to the reclaimed wood, it’s soooo civilized.

— Vicki Wilson

2. But those retail stores probably won’t open for at least a year.

The length of time between the legalization vote and the first retail sale was excruciating.

— Sam Borgen

3. When they do open, expect long lines and high prices—at first.

If you think you’re going to walk straight into a dispensary on the first day it opens and buy an ounce, think again. Be prepared to camp out in line, and expect the shop to run out of product after a few hours.

— Brett Konen

First day of sales: Prices were insane and quality was awful. Product was so hard to find. And lines. Dear god, the lines.

— Sam Borgen

Not all states had the lines and high prices. Oregon’s retail opening was nearly seamless. You could walk in and purchase almost immediately with a 21+ ID. They had quality product, too.

— Will Hyde

4. Some citizens will be skeptical of the entire enterprise.

Expect a hardcore holdout to roll by the opening-day retail store celebration and shout, “Enjoy your $25 gram, you TOOLS!” And then a few months later enjoy your legal, tested, licenced, expertly grown $6 gram.

— Bruce Barcott

5. Quality control may be an early issue.

I found some really bad edibles in stores those first few weeks.

— Brett Konen

I was really hesitant to go to a retail shop because I kept hearing that the bud was old and crappy. And you couldn’t tell because it was pre-packaged and sealed up.

— Rebecca Kelley

My first experience was a $40 eighth of super shitty dry shake—sold as “top shelf”—and a $60 2g pre-roll. It was a full year before I went back to a retail store.

— Kelly Bennett

6. Some of the first products may be pricey.

I spent $75 on two grams the second day of legalization.

— Lisa Rough


— Jeremiah Wilhelm, alarmed at Lisa Rough’s $75 purchase price.

7. But the product diversity will amaze you.

As someone who did not consume until years after it was legalized: Holy shit it’s not just flower! The options and consumption methods are incredibly numerous and diverse.

— John Michael Daniel

8. Those products won’t be limited to consumables.

I’m excited about the new opportunities for hemp, particularly as a textile fiber. Marijuana legalization has opened the conversation about growing hemp where I live, in north-central Washington State. It makes beautiful paper, fabric, and many other things.

— Katie Haven

A sample of Cannabis ruderalis, a species used to produce hemp seeds and fiber.

9. And after a few months prices will fall and quality will rise.

A few economists assured us that the early high prices would fall, and the market would find its balance. It took a few months, but they actually did. Stores in Washington, Colorado, and Oregon now offer some of the world’s highest quality cannabis at prices far lower than the illicit market can bear.

— Bruce Barcott

10. Thousands of arrests will end. Immediately.

It’s refreshing not to be dumping thousands of our young citizens (especially African-Americans, because de facto “legalization” has been the rule for whites for the past 10-20 years) into prison for no reason whatsoever.

— Bruce E.H. Johnson

11. And the cops will (mostly) be relieved.

In Seattle it almost feels like police are relieved that they don’t have to lay down the hammer for public consumption. Even with the $27 ticket they could dole out, most give those consuming in public a nudge to put it out or take it elsewhere out of sight.

— Maria Sharp

On day one in Colorado, one of my favorite moments was watching a local Denver Police Dept. precinct captain cheerfully mix with the crowd and talk with the store owners at Medicine Man, one of the city’s largest cannabis stores. He was there to show the flag, make sure everything went by the book, but he also was symbolizing the beginning of a positive new era.

— Bruce Barcott

It seems to have taken a lot of pressure off cops and I would hope it means they’re focusing on more important crimes and issues.

— Lisa Rough

It’s delightful to not have to worry about law enforcement. Legalization completely took away the paranoia associated with smoking or even being high in public. I used to be nervous talking to people at the grocery store, movie theater, etc. when I was super-blazed. I haven’t been paranoid-high since legalization.

— Brett Konen

No more paranoia about possessing in public.

— Diana Rocha

12. Zoning policies will suddenly take on great importance.

Legalization has exposed serious questions about the fairness of local government policies. County policies have concentrated retail marijuana stores into the two majority non-white communities in unincorporated areas, while the majority of residents live far away from there.

— Mark Johnston

13. Some parts of your new law will need improvement.

There are not enough funds going to recovery and education for addiction.

— Sonya Lea

Watching the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and the Oregon Health Authority stifle legalization left and right has been frustrating. And why they’d restrict medical patients is beyond me.

— James Martin

Washington and Colorado’s DUI THC limits are utterly scientifically baseless. Some studies show that stoned drivers drive slower and more safely than stone-cold sober drivers. I was shocked that the state didn’t institute a THC minimum for drivers.

— Tim Appelo

14. You’re going to smell it a little more. Like it or not.

It makes me sad that I can’t take a 30-minute walk or run along Lake Washington without running through six or eight separate clouds of pot smoke. I used to be pretty weed-agnostic. Its prevalence in my formerly fresh air is making me kind of hate it.

— Margot Page

I’m not a pot smoker and I don’t like the smell (no offense to those who do). It’s being consumed out in the open more than ever before, and I’m walking through clouds of smoke. I’m not happy about the ignorance around the laws about smoking in public.

— Sharon Ilstrup

The surprise to me is just how many pot shops there are now in Portland. Really, how many do there need to be?

— Jane Elliot

15. Surprise! Not everyone is looking for potent smokeables.

I love that my elderly mother can get CBD ointment that helps with her arthritis. Organic, of course.

— Katie Haven

I am thrilled that I can go into these shops and get educated by some pretty amazing people on CBD for pain (gel and tincture) for post-surgery shoulder pain, and for my elderly parents. I love that I can just purchase it over the counter and not have to deal with doctors and ridiculous bureaucratic crap.

— Sharon Ilstrup

16. Some people will find new careers.

I have a fantastic job!

— Allison Helfen, marketing director for a Seattle-area cannabis store

I’m delighted to be able to tell police officers that I’m a cannabis farmer without fear of arrest or prosecution.

— Crystal Oliver


17. You’ll finally know what you’re buying.

I’ve not yet been to the local pot boutique, but it’s nice to know that when I do I’ll trust the people behind the counter about what’s what and learn about the farmers who grew the stuff.

— Julie Skotheim

I love having the freedom to browse, ask questions, and purchase from a reliable source. Who knows what pesticides people have been growing with over the years. Now everything is tested, displayed, and the state is becoming more aggressive about allow pesticides. There’s still a lot to be done, but progress is happening.

— Paul Rodriguez

18. On edibles: Start low, go slow. Seriously.

I was surprised by how much edibles knocked me on my ass.

— Michelle Goodman

19. Your family, friends, and neighbors may surprise you.

Don’t be shocked when you see your mom buying rolling papers.

— Kelly Bennett

Every family meal or holiday will inevitably turn into a discussion about cannabis, the new edible your uncle tried, or how shocked the older generation is by vape pen technology.

— Will Hyde

Expect your judgmental anti-cannabis relatives to hover awkwardly in the hallway to eavesdrop on your cannabis conversations because they’re morbidly curious but are afraid to actually ask you questions.

— Rebecca Kelley

Expect funny texts from your mom after her first retail cannabis experience.

— Will Hyde

Actual text from Will Hyde's mom.

Actual text from Will Hyde’s mom.

20. You may rediscover old classics.

I’m an old hippy, but I had not used marijuana for decades before it became legal. Now that I’m older, I use it for pain. I use it as a medicine. In addition to its easing pain, I am listening to “Disraeli Gears” again.

— Lora Jansson

21. And finally relax, and get a good night’s sleep.

During this election, thank god Colorado allows us to knock the edge off.

— Otsie Stowell

I never tried pot until it became legal. Then I met some nice helpful people at my local mom-and-pop pot shop, and got hooked up with some amazing sleep-tailored spliffage. A good night’s sleep, once a rarity, is now an affordable reality thanks to my newfound willingness to give “nature’s Ambien” a chance.

— Jim Thomsen

Marijuana & Sleep: 9 Things to Know About Your Herbal Nightcap

22. You may feel a new freedom to express yourself.

Since legalization, I’ve developed a horrible habit of being really honest about my intoxication with strangers (namely Uber drivers) when I’m a little too stoney baloney.

– Maria Sharp

I totally do that. Generally with grocery store clerks. “What are you going to do with all these Doritos?” “I’m going to get super high and build a pillow fort.”

— Brett Konen

One time on Mother’s Day the cashier at Safeway said, “Happy Mother’s Day” based on what I was purchasing. I wanted to say, “I don’t have kids, I just enjoy getting stoned and eating Crunchberries.”

— Rebecca Kelley

23. You may experience regrets about the past.

I look back on the years before legalization and am amazed at how stupid that was. To think there are people in jail for something as innocuous as a few cocktails—and a lot less dangerous than a lot of cocktails.

— Eric Sorensen

24. Social mores won’t change as quickly as the law.

The biggest surprise is that alcohol is still so much more socially acceptable among my peers, who are generally adults with children. I don’t really know what I expected, but it seems strange that it’s normal and acceptable to drink in front of kids, but there still seems to be a stigma around pot that’s unwarranted.

— Tracey Peacoe Denlinger

25. Expect not that much to change.

I’m delighted it is helping people, and not surprised it’s pretty much life as usual. I don’t see it much in my social circles but that’s likely due to having kids around. I’m surprised I’ve never once visited a pot shop in all this time. Nerd.

— Erika Biggs

I’m not a consumer, so not even a blip occurred in my life.

— Mary Terry

Expect not a lot to change at all on a macro level. There are some new stores now, and those stores have customers, and they sell products to customers. Society does not crumble.

— Majid Burney

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Bruce Barcott
Bruce Barcott
Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.
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