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Calm, steady crowds appear for New Vansterdam’s grand opening

About 35 customers lined up at 8 a.m. for the second recreational pot store opening in Vancouver

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Matt Lewallen, left, and Briana Wittich hold marijuana they purchased from New Vansterdam on July 11, 2014.
Matt Lewallen, left, and Briana Wittich hold marijuana they purchased from New Vansterdam on July 11, 2014. The two were the second paying customers on the store's opening day. Photo Gallery

No street fair or throngs of media greeted the 35 or so customers lined up at 8 a.m. Friday for the grand opening of Vancouver’s second legal marijuana shop.

The calm, quiet line at New Vansterdam, 6515 E. Mill Plain Blvd., seemed somewhat telling. After only three days, legal retail sales are suddenly the everyday reality of Washington’s recreational marijuana industry.

Still, many of those in line came because they wanted to be part of history.

Briana Wittich, from Camas, and her fiance, Matt Lewallen, from Portland, were the first in line when they came to the store at 5 a.m.

“I just recently started smoking,” Wittich said. “I have polycystic ovarian syndrome and I’m in a lot of pain. It’s harder than you’d think to get your medical (marijuana) card around here, so I’m really glad this is open.”

The couple, who bought 2 grams of OG’s Pearl strain and 1 gram of Godzilla strain, were the second official customers to buy product at the store.

“We do everything together,” Lewallen said with a grin.

The first customer asked to remain anonymous.

Through their purchase, the pair became the first people ever to buy a retail product from Vancouver’s CannaMan Farms, the city’s only licensed local grower thus far.

Brian Stroh, owner of CannaMan, came to the opening a bit later and said he was thrilled to hear it.

“They have a great setup here,” he said, looking at New Vansterdam’s long wood tables and computer tablet stations of iPad Minis with strain information. “It’s impressive.”

Wittich said that while the prices were a little high, she was just happy to see marijuana products out in the open.

“It’s a little rough to start, but I’m buying to be part of history,” Wittich said. “It’s OK for today.”

As an Oregonian, Lewallen said he hopes to see his state join the legal marijuana club soon.

“Looks good for next election,” he said, adding that he planned to smoke the product in Camas at his fiancee’s house.

Taking pot to Oregon

As Lewallen knows, it’s illegal to take marijuana purchased in Washington over the border to Oregon.

But that didn’t stop Gary Kent of Portland from admitting he planned to take what he purchased back home across the river.

“It’s obvious,” Kent said. “I live there. I’m going to smoke it there. I don’t think it’s going to be any secret. People are coming from Oregon.”

He said he’s excited to see the industry become more normalized. Kent is a lifelong smoker and has gone to both store openings in Vancouver this week.

“I did Main Street Marijuana (which opened Wednesday), got in there, and now I’m coming in here,” Kent said. “I’m completing my collection of potent strains.”

He doesn’t have a medical reason for using it, he just likes it, he added.

“For me it’s not about the pain, it’s about getting wasted,” Kent said. “But at the same time I’m a responsible adult. I don’t smoke around kids. I don’t smoke and drive.”

As for the prices and paying tax to Washington state, he said he’s fine with that.

“The prices are good; it’s got to start somewhere,” Kent said. “And the taxes support schools, the industry supports other businesses. Meanwhile Portland is going to charge homeowners $12 a month to fix roads. Please. Do this instead.”

Ian Lofquist, another customer in the 8 a.m. line, said he used to have a medical card in California, but he hasn’t smoked since he came to Vancouver about a year ago.

“The whole system in California is a complete joke,” Lofquist said. “You can go in and say ‘I have a headache’ and they’ll give you a card.”

He said he’s glad to see legalization move forward in Washington.

“I am a supporter of it and I want to be part of history,” Lofquist said. “This is something I can tell my kids about.”

More marijuana shops are expected to open in Vancouver in the coming weeks and months. Battle Ground could also see a store. Other local jurisdictions where applicants have received licenses have banned stores from opening. A court case pending in Wenatchee may decide whether those local bans can trump state law.

Steady sales

As the line continued, employees from a neighboring business, Unleashed by Petco, came by and handed out coupons and free dog cookies.

Employees of New Vansterdam also handed out water to the small crowd.

Through the morning, the line moved smoothly, with about 20 people allowed into the store’s main sales area at a time.

By 2 p.m. the store had sold out of Blue Dream and White Widow, but had plenty of other stock left. Business remained steady.

Customers this weekend will be limited to buying either one 3.5-gram bag or one each of a 2-gram and 1-gram bag of product, because supplies around the state remain limited, said Don Joling, managing partner at New Vansterdam.

Still, the store has plenty of stock and doesn’t anticipate running out anytime soon, he said.

“Like every other place I’ve heard of, it’s been a little chaotic moving forward,” Joling said. “But it’s going very well. Everything’s been pretty smooth so far since we opened our doors.”

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