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OAKLAND, Calif. — Retail cannabis shops in California opened their doors on Monday for the first time, inaugurating what proponents say will become the world’s largest market for legalized recreational marijuana.
A transaction that remains illegal in many parts of the country seemed almost banal on Monday for the customers at a dispensary in Oakland who picked out their marijuana, showed their driver’s licenses and walked into the brisk morning air with their drugs in a paper bag.
“This is a whole new world opening up,” said Diana Gladden, 48, who bought marijuana for herself and her aging parents. “My mother, a very strict Southern Baptist, now thinks it’s O.K. because it’s legal.”
One customer left with more than $1,000 worth of cannabis in a large grocery bag.
Medical marijuana has been legal in California for more than two decades but the arrival of full legalization in the state is a milestone for the nation’s fast-growing cannabis industry. Pot is now sold legally down the entire length of the West Coast, plus Alaska.
A slow and halting rollout of California’s new cannabis regulations limited the number of shops offering the drug on Monday to just a handful of cities across the state, including Berkeley, Oakland, San Jose and San Diego. But more municipalities, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, are expected to issue licenses soon.
Alex Traverso, a spokesman for California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control, said around 100 dispensaries in the state were licensed to sell recreational cannabis on Monday.
Outside the dispensary in Oakland nearly 200 people waited in line before dawn for the 6 a.m. start of sales.
“Happy New Year!” Steve DeAngelo, the executive director of the dispensary, shouted through a bullhorn. “We’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time.”
But in a state where marijuana has been widely available for so long, the enthusiasm was relatively muted. Outside a dispensary in neighboring Berkeley only a handful of customers waited in line before sales began.
California is the sixth state to introduce the sale of recreational marijuana, after Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Nevada. Massachusetts and potentially Maine are expected to begin sales this year.
Unlike the other states that have legalized, California has a vast industry producing the drug, much of which is illegally sold across state lines. By one estimate, California produces seven times more marijuana than it consumes.
Philip Morris, maker of Marlboro cigarettes, submitted an application to the FDA on Tuesday seeking approval for its new tobacco vaporizer. The iQOS device, as it’s currently called, works on the same principle as the Pax, wherein the ground plant matter is gently heated until the active ingredients are vaporized, rather than burned with an open flame. Philip Morris claims that the vapor has 90 percent fewer harmful chemicals than normal cigarette smoke.
Rather than use a propylene glycol solution, the iQOS relies on replaceable real tobacco leaf cartridges which are shaped like conventional cigarettes. These “heat sticks” plug into the plastic heating element to produce a 500 degree F vapor and last around a dozen puffs.
If approved, the iQOS could profoundly shake up the US vaporizer market, which is currently dominated by modular, e-liquid-based vapes. The iQOS’ ease of use, low cost (heat stick packs cost around $6 on average), and brand familiarity are a potent marketing combination. The iQOS is already being sold in a number of foreign markets, including Japan where it has already captured nearly 2.4 percent of the market there.