Ray Markland, manager of Eureka cannabis dispensary ECO, which was among the first businesses in California to be granted a state permit to sell adult-use marijuana. | Photos by Ryan Burns.

“It’s finally legal.”

That’s the celebratory message printed on the glossy, four-page advertising insert tucked into issues of this week’s North Coast Journal. With a big picture of a dried, crystal-caked bud on the front and a bunch more photos inside of various weed strains and products, the ad — for Eureka retail outlet Ecological Cannabis Organization, or ECO — heralds the dawn of a new era in Humboldt County and the rest of the state.

Pre-rolled cannabis cigarettes from Emerald Family Farms in the display case at ECO.

Starting Monday, marijuana will be legal to buy for anyone over 21, no 215 card required. That’s assuming you can find a pot shop. 

The state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control began issuing temporary sales licenses just two weeks ago, and aspiring weed-mongers have been scrambling to submit the proper documentation, including a permit from their local city or county.

ECO, a dispensary at 306 F Street in Eureka, was among the first 10 applicants to receive a state license.

“It was pretty painless,” Company Manager Ray Markland told us earlier this week. “All of our local [documentation] that was required by the City of Eureka was also what the state was looking for.”

ECO appears to be one of only two storefronts in Humboldt County where customers will be able to buy recreational cannabis on New Year’s Day. Mariellen Jurkovich, director of the Humboldt Patient Resource Center (HPRC) at 980 Sixth Street in Arcata, said they’ve secured their local permit and submitted everything required to the state. They’re just waiting to get final approval from the state and — fingers crossed — expect to be open for business Monday.

“It’s been so stressful,” Jurkovich said. The City of Arcata didn’t approve the issuance of provisional non-medical permits until last Wednesday’s City Council meeting, according to City Manager Karen Diemer, which left Jurkovich and other applicants just a few days to apply with the state.

Both ECO and HPRC plan to serve both medical and recreational customers, and Jurkovich said there’s still a lot to be figured out on the recreational side. 

“There are gonna be a lot of changes,” she said regarding state regulations. “We’re excited for having [recreational use] permitted, but there’s gonna be a lot of things coming up they’ll have to clarify or maybe change.”

One key difference from the medical market is taxation. Retailers will be responsible for paying a 15 percent excise tax on all products sold, plus sales tax, which is 8.5 percent in both Arcata and Eureka. There will also be taxation at other points in the production line, including a cultivation tax, plus increased costs from transportation, packaging and testing.

With these business expenses plus taxation rates potentially reaching as high as 45 percent in some parts of the state, our region’s black market won’t disappear overnight. But Markland believes there’s a market for recreational users even here in Humboldt County, where many if not most residents know somebody who can hook them up with buds or trim.

“We’re gonna focus on concentrates and high-end indoor because I believe, just following trends, Humboldt County is a big fan of things they can’t get from a friend or neighbor,” Markland said. “Not everybody can make a really killer extract at their house — hopefully they’re not,” he added. “Be safe.”

As the former manager of Eureka Natural Foods, Markland comes from a retail background, and he said the new recreational weed sales industry will look a lot different than the state’s long-established medical sales setup. For one thing, retailers will only be allowed to purchase products from licensed distributors — no more direct purchasing from growers.

Markland said it’s like grocery stores buying beer. “You can’t just call Barbara Groom at Lost Coast and say, ‘Hey, it’s Eureka Natural Foods. Can we order 20 12-packs of Great White?’ You don’t do that. You go through Humboldt Beer Distributors.” Pot shops will have to jump through similar hoops.

ECO, HPRC and other recreational retailers in the state will have until July 1 to sell the products already in stock on New Year’s Day. After that everything will have to comply with the new state regulations regarding testing, tracking, packaging and more.

While there will be (at most) just two pot shops open locally at the start of 2018, more are on the way. Heart of Humboldt, the medical dispensary next to HPRC in Arcata, is reportedly pursuing its own retail sales permit, and Eureka Development Services Director Rob Holmlund tells the Outpost, “the City is currently in the process of receiving proposals from other prospective cannabis retail facilities.” The city’s municipal code allows up to four retail shops to be located in city limits, with no more than two approved during each six-moth period.

Other local cities, including Blue Lake and Fortuna, have opted to not allow recreational sales at all. In the unincorporated parts of the county, no applicants have been approved for retail sales, though one in McKinleyville is in the permitting process, awaiting building and fire clearance, according to Public Information Officer Sean Quincey.

Other players in the new legal market are also ramping up. Diemer said Arcata had about 20 people apply for provisional adult use permits, with only one being for retail sales. The rest are mostly pursuing manufacturing permits, including extraction and cultivation activities in the city’s recently rechristened Commercial Cannabis Innovation Zone, Diemer said.

Jurkovich said that while the last-minute permit rush and still-evolving regulatory landscape have been stressful, she’s looking forward to Monday. “We’re as ready as we’re gonna be,” she said.

If everything goes as planned and the state permit comes through, HPRC will open at 10 a.m. on New Year’s Day. ECO will open its doors at noon. 

ADDENDUM: Weed news website The Cannifornian is maintaining the map embedded below showing all the recreational cannabis dispensaries granted state permits thus far:

A digital menu at ECO.