West Hollywood, which is surrounded entirely by the city of Los Angeles, is expected to be a hotspot among Angelenos, who may have to wait weeks until licensed adult-use stores open in LA proper.
Shortly after 9 a.m., it seemed to be business as usual at Alternative Herbal Health Services (AHHS)—busy, but not overwhelmed. Security guard Andy Bird, who greeted a steady stream of customers as they entered the shop, said that when he arrived at 5:15 a.m., a line of eager customers was waiting outside the door. They were allowed inside the check-in area to wait, he said, but were not allowed to make any purchases until after 6 a.m. due to state limits on operating hours.
A medical cannabis dispensary since 2004, AHHS is one of the oldest operating storefronts south of San Francisco and was also the inspiration for the Netflix show “Disjointed,” said store owner Jason Beck. Its expansion into adult-use sales has brought mostly subtle changes in the rather cozy dispensary, such as setting up two separate cash registers—one labeled “adult-use” and the other “medical.”
Beck plans to open the shop at 6 a.m. all week to feel out customer demand.
“This is a 24-hour city,” he said. “Let’s just see what the market dictates.”
So far, he’s seen some interest from early birds on their way to work or having just left one of the many nearby gyms. If that early-morning demand dies down, however, Beck said the shop may eventually start opening later.
Mark Joyce, a veteran of the Vietnam War, made his first-ever trip to a cannabis store on Tuesday, joined at AAHS by his dog JuJu. Joyce said he has long used marijuana for “personal use” but was forced to purchase the product through illegal channels. “It’s legal now,” he said. “It’s all fun and games.”
A few blocks west of AAHS, a line began to form outside the upscale cannabis chain MedMen beginning around 8:30 a.m., according to the store’s staff. In addition to multiple local news trucks parked outside the store (and a food truck selling bagels), the line outside the dispensary continued to grow in anticipation of its 10 a.m. opening.
MedMen security and employees were outside to manage the crowds and hand out branded red tote bags emblazoned with the phrase “Mainstreaming Marijuana.” Bill Araiza, in town from Dallas, Texas for the Christmas holiday, described himself as a “cannabis enthusiast” and said he had also been in Denver in 2014, when Colorado became the first US state to begin legal adult-use sales.
“In Denver it was more of a sensation,” he said, suggesting that because medical marijuana has been legal in California for so long, there’s “not quite as much excitement” around adult use.
But for visitors like Jeremy Parks, who was visiting Los Angeles from Oklahoma for the Rose Bowl game on Monday, legal cannabis is still a novelty. Oklahoma still criminalizes even medical cannabis use.
Parks said his reason for coming to MedMen today was simple: “To get some marijuana!”
Parks chose MedMen because he heard about it on the news, he said. He planned to leave with some pre-rolls and a few other products.
In line behind Parks was Patrick Roe, a 26-year-old L.A. resident who previously held a medical marijuana card but allowed it to expire. He has no plans to re-up either, as he doesn’t consume very often and will now have ready access to cannabis from nonmedical stores. He sees cannabis as a replacement for alcohol, he said. “I’d rather smoke than drink.”
At Los Angeles Patients & Caregivers Group (LAPCG), which opened at 11 a.m., the line remained steady throughout the morning and early afternoon. Lindsey Reese, a budtender working the front desk, said that most of the morning’s customers had been first-timers and adult-use consumers. Only about 15%, she estimated, are returning medical patients.
She stopped to answer the phone. “LAPCG, this is Lindsey speaking,” she said. “We’re recreational today!”
Most callers have wanted to know whether or not they’ll be a difference in quality between medical and adult-use products. They’re also curious about tax rates and how long they’ll have to wait in line, she said.
The answers? State taxes are currently are 24.5%, and while West Hollywood doesn’t charge any local taxes, it could eventually impose one. And the midday line took about half an hour to get through.
In line was one customer who had something extra to celebrate: a 21st birthday, allowing entrance to the newly legal shops.
Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to Alternative Herbal Health Services as the oldest operating cannabis storefront south of San Francisco. Los Angeles Patients & Caregivers Group opened on the same day. Leafly regrets the error.