A dank bud of marijuana may never become as popular as a frosty mug of beer in California.
But the popularity of cannabis is soaring, and not just among the young.
Three months after recreational marijuana went on sale in California, San Diego retailers say weed is being snapped up by everyone, including elderly people who use a private shuttle bus to reach one of the city’s largest dispensaries.
“There’s been a change in the culture,” said Will Senn, who operates two Urbn Leaf marijuana stores in San Diego and is about to open a third.
“Cannabis is becoming more accepted. Now that adult-use marijuana is legal, people are giving it a try. The average age of our customers has gone from about 40 to about 50.”
One of his stores is pulling in about 1,000 customers a day, a figure that would probably be higher if parking was more plentiful.
No one is sure exactly how much marijuana is being sold; the state says that it will be May before it releases figures for the first three months of the year.
But analysts indicate that marijuana sales for that period could surpass $1 billion statewide. And it appears that many of the California cities and counties that outlawed the sale of marijuana are going to change their mind, including some in San Diego County.
Pot sales are generating lots of tax revenue. There have been comparatively few problems associated with adult-use cannabis, making it a less volatile subject politically.
And public acceptance of marijuana continues to grow — something that was evident in February when an unnamed Girl Scout began selling cookies near a marijuana store in San Diego’s Bay Park neighborhood.
The girl sold 312 boxes of cookies in two days, a story that went viral when it hit social media. Some people were outraged. But the story mostly generated jokes, and praise about the kid’s business savvy.
The story soon died, even though a few more Girl Scouts later showed up to cash in on the munchie madness.
Rocky Goyal agrees with Senn that a cultural shift is going on.
“Three months in, the sky is not falling,” said Goyal, who operates the Apothekare marijuana store in Mission Valley.
“Motorists aren’t getting into higher rates of accidents. Children aren’t dropping dead at school. We’re seeing a lot of older people coming out to give this a shot.”
That doesn’t mean he believes that everyone is embracing the use of marijuana.
“A Girl Scout wanted to sell cookies outside my store,” Goyal said. “I told her, ‘Absolutely not. America isn’t ready for that.’ "
There’s reason for caution. The full impact of recreational marijuana sales isn’t known.
UC San Diego Health says that it has not experienced a spike in patients who consumed too much marijuana. Police are not seeing large numbers of cannabis delivery workers being robbed. And the California Highway Patrol hasn’t issued public statements saying that adult-use marijuana has led to a statewide surge in accidents.
But it’s still early. These institutions are just beginning to understand how the freer flow of marijuana is affecting society.
There’s already confusion about whether the sale of recreational marijuana has affected the demand for black market cannabis.
“The overall biggest surprise is that there is not enough supply to meet the legal market demand,” said Dallin Young, executive director of the Association for Cannabis Professionals in San Diego.
“We have seen that many consumers would prefer to visit a licensed retail location, but because of the lack of licenses for additional dispensaries and the rest of the supply chain many consumers are being forced into the black market.
San Diego Police say they have not witnessed a rise in black market marijuana sales.
One thing is clear: the legal sale, cultivation and distribution of marijuana is going to become more widespread in San Diego County.
Oceanside officials decided on Wednesday that it will allow for the commercial cultivation of medical marijuana, a plan strongly supported by local farmers. Chula Vista is preparing for the sale, cultivation and manufacture of cannabis. And La Mesa and Lemon Grove are clearing the way for licensed medical marijuana shop. La Mesa's first shop will open in July.
It’s also possible that the San Diego County Board of Supervisors might be forced to change its largely wholesale ban on the sale of marijuana in unincorporated areas.
The local cannabis industry is pushing to elect candidates in two supervisorial districts who are pro-pot.
“Adult-use cannabis is here to stay and local governments, both cities and counties, would be foolish to ignore or attempt to countermand this,” said Lincoln Fish, chief executive of Outco, a wholesaler that cultivates cannabis and sells medical marijuana at a site near El Cajon.