LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – California was to launch the world’s largest regulated commercial market for recreational marijuana yesterday, as dozens of newly licensed stores catering to adults who enjoy the drug for its psychoactive effects opened for business up and down the state.
It became the sixth US state, and by far the most populous, venturing beyond legalised medical marijuana to permit the sale of cannabis products of all types to customers at least 21 years old.
Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Nevada were the first to introduce recreational pot sales on a state-regulated, licensed and taxed basis. Massachusetts and Maine are on track to follow suit later this year.
With California and its 39.5 million residents officially joining the pack, more than one-in-five Americans now live in states where recreational marijuana is legal for purchase, even though cannabis remains classified as an illegal narcotic under US law.
The marijuana market in California alone, which boasts the world’s sixth-largest economy, is valued by most experts at several billion dollars annually and is expected to generate at least a $1 billion a year in tax revenue.
“Adding California to the regulated market for cannabis is a really big deal,” said Heather Azzi, a senior attorney for the Marijuana Policy Project, an advocacy group working to liberalise marijuana laws.
Uruguay became the first and only country to legalize recreational marijuana sales nationally, permitted through its pharmacies starting in July 2017, but is far smaller in comparison, with a population of only 3.4 million.
Still, most California jurisdictions were sitting out the highly anticipated New Year’s Day inauguration of recreational cannabis sales.
But business will almost certainly be brisk at newly permitted shops ready on Day One. They number about four-dozen outlets across California, according to an authoritative guide to the cannabis market, GreenState, published by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Stores authorised to carry recreational weed were set to go yesterday in San Diego, San Jose, Santa Cruz, Oakland, Berkeley, Eureka and Desert Hot Springs, among other locales. Hundreds more are expected to open throughout the state as the year progresses.
Many previously operated strictly as medical cannabis dispensaries.