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Marijuana retailers face chaotic opening

Supplies may be lacking, questions abound in Wash.

SEATTLE — With the clock ticking down to the start of legal marijuana sales in Washington state, store owners hoping to start selling on Tuesday are consumed by details as they try to make sure the much-debated product is on the shelves.

At Cannabis City, the only recreational marijuana shop ready to open in Seattle, owner James Lathrop has hired an events company to provide crowd control, arranged for a food truck and free water for those who might spend hours waiting outside, and rented a portable toilet.

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He can only hope his initial 10-pound supply is enough and says he may limit purchases to ensure everyone can go home with at least a 2-gram package of history.

A hundred miles to the north, John Evich is trying to figure out how to get the marijuana to his store in Bellingham quickly once it is approved for a license, which should happen Monday. He has considered everything from loading the marijuana onto his commercial crab boat and rushing it across Puget Sound to renting a helicopter.

One year and eight months after voters in Washington and Colorado stunned much of the world by legalizing marijuana, the sale of heavily regulated and taxed cannabis begins here this week, with the first few stores opening amid talk of high prices, shortages, and rationing. Sales began in Colorado at the start of the year.

‘I don’t want people to be waiting in line for four hours and then I have to come out and tell them we don’t have any more.’

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State officials issued the first retail licenses on Monday in a series of middle-of-the-night emails alerting bleary-eyed pot-shop proprietors that they’ll finally be able to open for business. They could open at 8 a.m. the next day, but how many planned to be up and running remained unclear.

While Seattle had just one store ready, at least two could open in some smaller cities, including Bellingham, Tacoma, and Spokane.

Some shops were frantically calling growers, trying to ensure they would have enough product. More than 2,600 people applied to grow the marijuana that will be sold, but fewer than 100 have been approved by the state Liquor Control Board’s swamped licensing investigators, and many will not be ready to harvest until later this summer.

Even those who already made agreements to buy marijuana — at exorbitant prices, in many cases — were not sure when it would arrive. State rules require a 24-hour ‘‘quarantine’’ before growers can ship it to customers.

What time the stores receive their licenses on Monday will dictate when they can place their order with the growers, and thus how soon the growers can transport it to the stores, which might be hundreds of miles away.

Once it arrives, the stores must verify their bar-coded inventory and enter it into the state’s tracking system before they can sell it. Few had confidence the software would be glitch-free.

The challenges were daunting enough that Adam Schmidt of Clear Choice Cannabis in Tacoma said he was leaning against opening his store this week, even though he expected to be among the first to get a license.

‘‘I don’t want people to be waiting in line for four hours and then I have to come out and tell them we don’t have any more,’’ he said.

Lathrop, whose shop is south of downtown Seattle, and Evich, an investor in Bellingham’s Top Shelf Cannabis, had secured agreements to buy dried marijuana buds from Nine Point Growth Industries in Bremerton, on the Kitsap Peninsula.

Workers there rushed to sort its 30-pound harvest into thousands of 2-gram packages, said Gregory Stewart, Nine Point’s owner.

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