Harborside in Oakland and Berkeley Patient’s Group were among the first two marijuana dispensaries to sell the first ounce of legal recreational weed on New Year’s Day.
Crowds had lined up early. One man had arrived in Berkeley from Modesto at 4 a.m. to be first in line. He said he didn’t want to be a criminal any longer, and he was joined by Mayor Jesse Arreguin, who cut a green ribbon to start official sales at 6 a.m.
Nearby in Oakland, Harborside co-owner Steve DeAngelo gave a cheery speech, outlining the long history of marijuana and its status from taboo to approved.
The nation's most populous state joins a growing list of other states, and the nation's capital, where so-called recreational marijuana is permitted even though the federal government continues to classify pot as a controlled substance, like heroin and LSD.
Pot is now legal in California for adults 21 and older, and individuals can grow up to six plants and possess as much as an ounce of the drug. And since it's legal, it is now taxed at 15 percent, and counties also have their own tax on cannabis as well.
But finding a retail outlet to buy non-medical pot in California won't be easy, at least initially. Only about 90 businesses received state licenses to open on New Year's Day. They are concentrated in San Diego, Santa Cruz, the San Francisco Bay Area and the Palm Springs area.
Los Angeles and San Francisco are among the many cities where recreational pot will not be available right away because local regulations were not approved in time to start issuing city licenses needed to get state permits. Meanwhile, Fresno, Bakersfield and Riverside are among the communities that have adopted laws forbidding recreational marijuana sales.
Today, 29 states have adopted medical marijuana laws. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana. Since then, five more states have passed recreational marijuana laws, including Massachusetts, where retail sales are scheduled to begin in July.
Even with other states as models, the next year is expected to be a bumpy one in California as more shops open and more stringent regulations take effect on the strains known as Sweet Skunk, Trainwreck and Russian Assassin.
The California Police Chiefs Association, which opposed the 2016 ballot measure, remains concerned about stoned drivers, the risk to young people and the cost of policing the new rules in addition to an existing black market.
But Henry Wykowski was glad he didn't have to buy marijuana under any cloud anymore. He was the first sale at Harborside.
“It feels great,” he said. “It’s a long time coming.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.