By Eric M. Johnson and Bryan Cohen
SEATTLE (Reuters) - Eager customers lined up before dawn on Tuesday as Washington became the second U.S. state to allow the sale of marijuana for recreational use, although shortages and high prices were likely to accompany any euphoria.
Store employees clapped and cheered at Top Shelf Cannabis in the northern city of Bellingham as its first buds were sold to a 29-year-old from Kansas, Cale Holdsworth.
"I'm happy to be a part of history," said Holdsworth, who was on vacation visiting family and took his place at the front of the line at about 4 a.m.
A handful of shops opened a day after 25 outlets were issued licenses under a heavily regulated and taxed system approved by voters in November 2012.
The nation, and the federal government, are watching Washington's rollout as a broader trend of liberalization and pro-pot activism takes hold in the United States.
More than 100 people were outside Top Shelf Cannabis, in an industrial office park, when the doors opened at 8 a.m.
After Holdsworth's ID was checked to ensure he was 21 or older, he picked out two grams (0.07 ounce) of "OG Pearl Kush" for $26.50, which included about $6 in taxes.
His marijuana was placed in black plastic packaging labeled with its name and strength.
"This is exactly what we need: proper education and information," Holdsworth said. "It's a great step forward." A couple of miles (3 km) away, Bellingham's second licensed store, 2020 Solutions, remained closed as staff said a technical issue with the state's tracking system prohibited their producer from shipping their pot.
SEATTLE'S ONLY SHOP
While Colorado has raked in millions of dollars a month in tax since regulated retail sales began in January, Washington has charted a glacial path to market.
State regulators are still processing more than 300 license applications, and the limited harvests by approved growers have fed concerns about shortages.
In Seattle, home to about 630,000 people, the only licensed retailer held a "high noon" ribbon-cutting ceremony.
First in line at Cannabis City was Deb Greene, a 65-year-old retiree who queued for 21 hours. She said she would keep her package of pot sealed as a memento, and might even leave it to Seattle's Museum of History and Industry in her will.
Brent Michael, the owner of a tile and stonework business in Tacoma, said he and an employee took the day off to drive the 37 miles (60 km) north to the store.
"We took a snow day," Michael said. "We just wanted to come be part of this. I'll probably take the bag and save it and open up my regular jar and smoke the much more affordable pot."
While some stores offered lower pricing for early customers, the cost of a gram is expected to rise to between $12 and $25 depending on quality and type.
Customers are legally allowed up to 1 ounce (28 grams) of marijuana before buying more. They also can buy up to 16 ounces (454 grams) of pot-infused product in solid form, or up to 72 ounces (2 kg) of marijuana-infused product in liquid form.
(Additional reporting by Jimmy Lovaas; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Sandra Maler and Eric Walsh)