Come Thursday, Bend dispensaries ready to roll: Sale of recreational marijuana about to begin

Dispensaries in Bend are stocking up, packaging product and rolling joints ahead of Thursday, the day sales of limited amounts of recreational marijuana become legal in Oregon.

Marijuana advocates see the day as cause for celebration, the day the once-evil weed goes mainstream.

“I think this is the birth of a whole new industry that I think will rival the craft beer industry within five years,” said Gary Bracelin, a partner at Tokyo Starfish, 542 NW Arizona Ave., one of the newest of 16 medical marijuana dispensaries in Bend. “Part of what we’re trying to do is take the stigma away.”

Sam Stapleton, owner of DiamondTree, a dispensary with two locations in Bend, said he expects 500 or more people to show up at the U.S. Highway 20 location on Thursday. If the state approves, he plans on opening at midnight.

In addition to hiring five new people for a total staff of 14, he’s also contemplating armed security. He’s ready for whatever the day brings, he said.

“It’s been a long time coming,” he said Friday. “It’s one of those goals you always have in the back of your mind. It’s unfolded so fast that it hasn’t sunk in.”

Starting Thursday, adults age 21 and older may purchase ¼ ounce of dried marijuana flowers or leaves from one dispensary per day. That’s about two grape-size dried flower buds, enough for two bowls full in a marijuana pipe. Customers are not limited to buying from one dispensary, however, according to the Oregon Health Authority. Adults may also purchase four immature marijuana plants per year from any one source, but they may purchase plants from several sources, according to the authority. Rolled joints are legal for sale, but not processed marijuana products, such as extracts, drinks, salves or edibles.

Gov. Kate Brown in July signed a law allowing early recreational sales of marijuana at medical marijuana dispensaries until the fully fledged system is in place to regulate the production, processing and sale of recreational marijuana. Oregon voters in November approved Measure 91, which legalized possession of limited amounts of recreational marijuana on July 1. But the law made no provision for sales of recreational pot from the time it became legal until the Oregon Liquor Control Commission has a regulatory framework in place.

The OLCC may accept applications starting Jan. 4 for licenses to grow, process and sell recreational marijuana. It estimates retail shops will be up and running a year from now. Early recreational sales at medical marijuana dispensaries, which are regulated by the Oregon Health Authority, bridge that gap. The health authority has jurisdiction over those sales, which are tax free until Jan. 4. All sales are cash only.

“We’ve gotten a lot of notifications from dispensaries around the state,” said Jonathan Modie, health authority spokesman, Thursday. “I’m betting today around 200 dispensaries have let us know they intend to do early sales.”

Modie did not know how many dispensaries in Bend planned to take part. Participating dispensaries must hang a sign indicating that fact; those that don’t must hang a sign that states that, too. In fact, the authority requires participating dispensaries hang signs cautioning pregnant or nursing mothers about the hazards of smoking marijuana and that warn of the dangers to children of ingesting marijuana. Dispensaries must also hang an “Educate Before You Recreate” poster that highlights the legal limits on recreational marijuana in Oregon. That’s not all.

“They’ll get something in their bag of goodies, a card, basically,” Modie said, “a card (that) will provide similar education to what they saw on the wall and posters. Our job is to protect public health. It’s very important to us that people have the information before, during and after they make a purchase so it’s clear what they need to be thinking of if they’re consuming or thinking of consuming marijuana.”

The drug comes with short- and long-term health risks, said Candice Beathard, a Ph.D. in public health policy at Oregon State University with an emphasis on marijuana. She said users may experience immediate dizziness, short-term memory loss, dry mouth, increased heart rate and paranoia. In very rare cases, some users experience a temporary psychosis, she said..

“That’s not seen a lot,” Beathard said, “but it’s a short-term risk.”

Long term, users, particularly those in their teens, may become dependent on the drug. It may intensify schizophrenia, although researchers discount any causal link between the two, Beathard said. Also, using marijuana regularly may cause “poor educational outcomes,” she said.

In other words, “smoking (marijuana) may affect your grades,” she said.

Some experiments suggest marijuana impairs drivers far less than alcohol does, Beathard said, although driving under the influence of marijuana is illegal in Oregon.

“There is a consensus that there is a dose-response relationship,” she said. “The more you smoke, the more you’re likely to be involved in an accident.”

Evidence suggests using marijuana even just a few times a week may have a lasting effect on the brains of children and young adults, said Elliot Berkman, a Ph.D. and assistant professor of psychology at University of Oregon.

“The evidence is really bad for kids,” he said. “Child use is definitely worse than adult use.”

Also, Berkman said, human brains continue to develop into the mid-20s age range. “If I were in that range, I would be concerned with starting marijuana use at age 21,” he said.

Dispensary owners said they expect few customers unfamiliar with the product, but “budtenders” will be standing by for those who don’t know a terpenes from trichomes or OG Kush from Cookie Wreck.

“There are several reserves we’re going to tap into,” Stapleton said. He also expects to have the second location, on Galveston Avenue, open by Thursday.

Lines may form outside Bend dispensaries and, once inside, customers may expect similar routines at each. A clerk will request identification to ensure the bearer is 21 years or older. Only a valid U.S.-, state- or tribal-issued photo ID is acceptable. Modie said the health authority’s first concern is keeping marijuana out of minors’ hands.

“Twenty-one and older,” he said. “They need to show ID. They need to have that perfectly clear.”

Next, the clerk will log the consumer into a tracking system. Most dispensaries employ software to comply with health authority regulations that they record for each sale the amount of product sold, the buyer’s birth date, the sale price and sale date. Dispensaries are not required to record the buyer’s name, but they must be able to identify anyone who attempts a second purchase on the same day. Dispensary owners interviewed for this report said they would probably take names and driver’s license or ID card numbers.

Once inside, potential pot buyers may have to wait in a lobby until space becomes free in a separate sales area. The sales areas, some of them smaller spaces built to accommodate a slower-paced medicinal trade, may be limited to four or fewer customers. Others may allow as many inside as space and staff permit.

At Tokyo Starfish, two customers may peruse the dispensary menu on iPads while two others make their purchases. At Cannabend, 3312 N U.S. Highway 97, business partner Lizette Coppinger said she installed a third counter especially for recreational customers and a third point of sale for transactions.

“We want to get people in and out; people’s time is valuable,” she said. “I think the hype about it has settled down a little bit, so we don’t expect big lines. But we won’t be caught off guard.”

Prices for a gram of marijuana in five shops surveyed range from $5 to $15, depending on the quality and strain. Indoor-grown varieties high in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, typically cost more. THC is a psychoactive substance. Strains in which cannabidiol, or CBD, is prevalent typically relax the user. Hybrid varieties have characteristics of both.

Products must be labeled to indicate the relative strengths of those substances, although testing labs often determine widely varying results for the same sample. The products must also be tested for pesticides and mold and mildew and be labeled as such. The label must also indicate the test date, test batch and amount of product in the package. It must also bear a warning: “Medicinal product — Keep out of reach of children.”

Coppinger said she’s concerned about running low on marijuana, but others said they had no worries. Some dispensary owners grow their own marijuana; others rely on growers to supply them. Some do both.

Aviv Hadar, a partner at Oregrown, 1199 NW Wall St., said that dispensary will feature its own brands. He anticipates long lines and a celebratory atmosphere.

Some shops throw off a clinical vibe. Others resemble ice-cream parlors, their marijuana in tublike jars under glass. Tokyo Starfish is styled like a sushi restaurant. Hadar describes Oregrown as a fashion boutique.

Its partners planned ahead by prepackaging marijuana flights (similar to flights of beer or wine) in salable amounts, investing in stylish packaging and creating a smartphone app that allows consumers to peruse the Oregrown menu and order ahead, Hadar said. Like other dispensary owners, he said his shop plans on imparting a certain experience to the transaction. That may mean spending a few minutes to open sample jars and field questions.

“We’re right downtown; we feel the need to represent a lot better than any dispensary,” he said. “We plan on gift-wrapping for the holiday season.”