San Diego

California Issues First Batch of Licenses to Legally Sell Marijuana

Twenty temporary licenses were issued, one in San Diego County, as the state prepares to embrace legal marijuana beginning Jan. 1, 2018

California's legal marijuana market is finally, fitfully, taking shape.

The state on Thursday issued the first batch of business licenses to sell and transport recreational-use pot, just 18 days before legal sales will begin on Jan. 1, 2018.

The 20 temporary licenses — some of which were for the previously existing medical marijuana industry — represent a fraction of the thousands of licenses expected to follow as the state embraces legal weed in 2018.

Of those 20 licenses issued by the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control, one was issued to a business in San Diego County: Torrey Holistics, located at 10671 Rosselle St. The business is licensed for both recreational and medicinal sales of pot to adults.

The release of the licenses set off jubilation across the state.

"We were very excited, extremely excited," Ruthie Edelson of Torrey Holistics said.  

At Torrey Holistics, CEO Tony Hall credited his business background and detailed application with helping land the first license for a retail shop to sell recreational pot. The store, which has two certified public accountants, a chief financial officer, and marketing director, submitted a 60-page lease, diagrams and a detailed business plan.

"I think it's how we conduct our business. We all have a professional background," said Hall, the former owner of a chemical distribution company who opened the medical marijuana shop two years ago with a college friend.

He sees recreational marijuana taking off like the wine and craft beer industries.

At his store, Customers go through an electronic security gate manned by a guard. Once inside, the business looks like a stylish pharmacy with wood floors and Christmas decorations.

"The taboo part is slowly going to be removed and this is going to be like any other business," Hall said.

On Friday, the Torrey Holistics website posted a graphic that featured party supplies like streamers and cupcakes and these words: "Celebrate the New Normal."

The graphic said the business would be open come Jan. 1, adding, "The Prohibition is NOW over!"

Torrey Holistics
Torrey Holistics posted this graphic to its website Friday celebrating the license.

"Legalized by the State of California, Licensed and Permitted by the City of San Diego, Torrey Holistics is committed to being the city’s best medical marijuana dispensary," the business' website reads. "Featuring premium cannabis strains and over 300 medicated products."

As of December 15, Torrey Holistics is the only dispensary in San Diego County that can sell marijuana to adults 21 and over, starting January 1, 2018. "Everyone wishing to operate on January 1 must have a state license," Alex Traverso with the Bureau of Cannabis Control said in an email to NBC 7.

In general, California will treat cannabis like alcohol, allowing people 21 and older to legally possess up to an ounce and grow six marijuana plants at home.

The route to legalization began last year when voters approved Proposition 64, which opened the way for recreational pot sales to adults in the nation's most populous state, home to one in eight Americans.

A patchwork of rules has emerged with some cities embracing legal sales and others banning commercial pot activity.

Companies expect that it will take time for society to adjust to marijuana's legality.

"California has been without regulations for a very long time. So there is going to be a transition period," he added, referring to the changes coming in 2018 with legal cultivation and sales.

Come January, the newly legalized recreational sales will be merged with the state's two-decade-old medical marijuana market, which is also coming under much stronger regulation.

The state and hundreds of cities have been struggling to devise rules to govern the vast, emerging industry with a projected value of $7 billion. The state's online system to apply for a license opened just one week ago.

To date, more than 1,900 users have registered with the online system, and more than 200 applications have been submitted. The numbers suggest many retailers and growers are holding back — by some estimates, Humboldt County alone has up to 15,000 unregulated pot grows.

In the background is widespread uncertainty about whether President Donald Trump's administration will attempt to intervene in states where marijuana is legal.

As marijuana is illegal in the eyes of the federal government, major banks are leery to do business with dispensaries and growers as so much of the business is conducted in cash.

NBC 7 contributed to this report.

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