Rodney Merrick waited nearly 50 years for Saturday.
The 67-year-old lifelong Baltimorean now living in Harlem Park said he first smoked weed in 1974, buying from dealers around Towson in his youth.
“What took them so damn long?” Merrick asked as he waited in line at ReLeaf Shop in Mount Vernon on Saturday, the first day of legal recreational marijuana sales in Maryland. Merrick said he was hoping to buy Panama Red, a classic sativa strain from the 1960s.
Lines wrapped around dispensaries across the state Saturday as residents and visitors sought to purchase weed legally. ReLeaf offered free coffee and doughnuts as its wait time pushed an hour. Patients with medical marijuana licenses, which have been around since 2017, could cut in front.
ReLeaf CEO Connor Whelton said Missouri, which launched recreational weed sales in February and has a similar population, is a fair measuring stick for how Maryland’s marijuana market will change.
“Their market in Missouri tripled overnight. We are hoping for a tripling of our business and settling down to two times, and that is conservative,” Whelton said.
Whelton said ReLeaf recently invested $1.2 million in a second-floor storage and processing facility in order to keep up with expected legal demand.
In eastern Baltimore County in Middle River, Daron Pino, general manager of Mana Supply Co., was also dealing with a full parking lot and overflowing line.
“Please don’t smoke no weed in line,” Pino told the crowd.
In Annapolis, dozens lined up outside of Gold Leaf Dispensary before it opened Saturday morning. Gold balloons lined the dispensary’s entry as cannabis-based organizations handed out free rolling papers and lighters to waiting customers.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Michael Tese, Gold Leaf’s senior vice president of retail. “We are super excited. Of course, a little nervous.”
Maryland voters approved recreational cannabis in November, but the legislation outlining industry regulations was not enacted until April. Maryland Gov. Wes Moore signed it into law in May.
Workers said preparing for Saturday was a sprint.
“The amount of labor the medical industry has had to put in these past few weeks to make this happen has been unreal. I was here until 2 a.m. last night,” Jasmine Berry, Mana’s inventory lead, said between taking orders Saturday. “We had to pull this off in what I believe is record time.”
Before Saturday, 163,000 Marylanders had a license to purchase medicinal cannabis. Now some 4.5 million Marylanders who are age 21 and older will be eligible.
The sharp increase in demand has correlated with an increase in prices.
Pino said that three years ago, the price of a high-quality eighth of an ounce, roughly five cigarette-sized joints worth of flower, was $60 before dropping to $30 last year and then rebounding to $60 with legalization, although prices vary with deals and quality.
“All the prices are going up, and they’re going up dramatically, and they’re going up without much warning for medical patients, and dispensaries have done their best, but realistically there is nothing we can do about it because a bunch of demand has been introduced faster than supply,” said Timi Tinuoye, Mana Supply Co.’s inventory manager.
Outside Far & Dotter, a dispensary in Timonium, state Sen. Chris West, R-Lutherville, said the Legislature will update regulations again next year.
“We had 90 days to craft a lengthy bill to deal with all the issues crafting a recreational market. I’m sure we made some mistakes. We’re going to have to go back and fix some things, but we’re prepared to do that,” West said.
ReLeaf didn’t have any Panama Red, so Merrick settled for a different strain and some wax.
“I’m gonna go home and smoke by myself. Ain’t nobody else pay for it,” Merrick said.
Other Marylanders had more social plans. William Hayes, waiting in line in Middle River, was going to play music with friends before heading to a concert. Ariana Foote in Timonium was headed to a cannabis-infused brunch with friends.
At ReLeaf in Mount Vernon, Debra Chambers of West Baltimore said she had a barbecue with chicken and ribs planned for Saturday evening, during which she would be rolling her own joints.
“I’ve been doing it for years, so I’ve gotten pretty good,” said Chambers, 56. “A lot of people are in a lot of pain, and I really believe this will help with that. This is the best thing they could have done for everybody, and I do mean everybody.”