On New Year's Day, dozens of people stood in line at Buddy's Cannabis in San Jose to buy marijuana for the first time legally.
Buddy's was the first shop in California to receive a license to sell recreational marijuana. In the days leading up to Jan. 1, there was a flurry of activity in the inventory room as workers prepared for big crowds by weighing, measuring, labeling and packing cannabis in child-proof containers.
"There's 14-gram jars, there are 3½-gram jars," points out Matt Lucero, owner of Buddy's Cannabis. For the last eight years he’s been selling medical marijuana in a nondescript industrial building in North San Jose.
"Folks who want to have safe access to cannabis, they know how to find us. The folks who are opposed to us never have to see us."
In 2016, California voters approved Proposition 64, which allows adults over 21 to purchase marijuana for recreational use. It also established a process for licensing retail sales. The state’s blessing culminates a hard-fought journey to bring the industry out of the shadows of the black market.
Lucero learned through trial and error the social stigma around selling cannabis when he quit his job as a corporate attorney to open up a medical marijuana shop in Mountain View.
"We were kicked out of town about three months after that. We went to Sunnyvale and we were there for about 10 days before being asked very forcefully to leave," he says.
Lucero ended up in San Jose, one of the few cities at the time with established medical marijuana regulations.
"Well, this certainly is an ongoing social experiment. But I think right now we are continuing to build credibility with our community."
Buddy’s and other recreational pot shops will be highly regulated. And customers' purchases will be taxed, which means you can expect to pay more than the street version. But after all he has been through to get this business off the ground, Lucero believes the hardest part of it all is behind him.
"My estimate is that beginning Jan. 1 we'll probably have an overnight increase about 30 percent in revenue."
He’s confident that growth will continue beyond the new year, enough to create more jobs and expand operations.