Outside midtown’s Harvest cannabis dispensary, Sammy Magro said she had no problem standing in line to get legal THC cartridges instead of purchasing them off the black market as she had done for years. It was a sunny day in the low 70s and the line was moving quickly, so Magro didn’t mind the wait, she said. 

“I’m excited about this. It’s my first time buying legally,” Magro said. “I’m looking for cartridges today because it’s better than getting them off the street because they’re pure.”

Bryce Hill said he has bought recreational marijuana in other legal states and he was glad adult-use sales had finally come to Pima County because of the tax benefits. 

“I think it’s going to benefit the community because it’s taxed pretty heavily,” Hill said. “I forgot the exact numbers, but like Colorado, when they first legalized it they got massive amounts of money.” 

Others in the line would only give their first name—either due to the ongoing stigma of being associated with marijuana usage or a need for privacy. Charles X said he thought recreational marijuana was a very useful thing for the community to have, especially during a pandemic. 

“I’ve lived in Oregon before, so recreational legal marijuana for the citizenry is nothing new to me,” Charles X said. “But I think it’s an excellent alternative to many of the substances people have turned to for stress relief during the pandemic.”

The customers outside Harvest, 2734 E. Grant Road, were just a few of the thousands of Tucsonans who have been standing in line, sometimes for hours, for the chance to purchase recreational weed. Once inside the dispensaries, customers are discovering not only high-quality cannabis buds, but also a variety of marijuana extracts that can be smoked, eaten or applied to their bodies in the form of pain-relieving lotions.

The rush started on Friday, Jan. 22, when Harvest opened its doors to recreational customers.

Steve White, the owner of 15 Harvest dispensaries throughout Arizona, said he wasn’t expecting recreational sales to happen as soon as they did, but as the owner of the largest chain in the state, he had the staff and inventory to be ready for it.

“We hired in advance of this, we knew this was we wanted to be prepared,” White said. “We wanted to open as quickly as we could. We wanted to get recreational cannabis to customers the minute we’re able to do it.”

White has built his empire since voters first approved the state’s medical marijuana program in 2010. In the years since then, he’s steadily bought out licenses and opened shops in Avondale, Baseline, Casa Grande, Chandler, Cottonwood, Glendale, Havasu, Mesa, Peoria, Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe. He was also the largest single contributor to 2020’s Prop 207 campaign, kicking in $1.8 million of nearly $6 million raised for supporters.

White had the Tucson market cornered for a few days, but in less than a week, two more dispensaries had expanded from serving medical patients to the general public, Desert Bloom Re-Leaf Center at 8060 E. 22nd Street and north-central Bloom on Oracle Road. (Despite their similar names, the two dispensaries are separate from each other; Desert Bloom Re-Leaf Center is locally owned by Aari Ruben, while Bloom is part of chain that includes outlets in Phoenix, Sedona and Peoria in addition to Phoenix.

Other dispensaries are preparing to open to recreational sales in the coming weeks, but they face a variety of hurdles.

Moe Asnani, who owns the Downtown Dispensary at 221 E. Sixth Street and D2 at 7105 E. 22nd St., says he hopes to open to recreational sales soon, but has to take a number factors into consideration, such as social distancing and availability of product.

“There are two main holdups: capital and inventory. There is also an issue with compliance for employees and we’re hiring as much as we can,” Asnani said. “It doesn’t take very long, though, because of the electronic system already in place.”

Brian Warde says his two Prime Leaf locations, at 4220 E. Speedway and 1525 N. Park Ave., expect to be open in March.

Warde, co-owner and CEO of Prime Leaf, wants to be sure his employees and patients are as safe as possible, given the continued ravages of the coronavirus.

Citing space issues and inventory management—with the additional need for testing medicinal products due to a law that went into effect last November—Warde said last week he was going to take some time for his adult-use rollout in order to address public and employee safety during the COVID pandemic.

He also wants to ensure the patient experience does not suffer because he rushed the move into recreational sales.

“We want to give patients what they have come to expect, and not allow the adult-use market to alter our patients’ experience,” Warde said last week as the adult-use market frenzy began. “We’re slow rolling it to make sure we are in the best possible position to meet everyone’s expectations.”

Earth’s Healing, with two locations at 78 W. River Road and 2075 E. Benson Highway, expects to start recreational sales “the week of Feb. 5,” according Flo Hizazi, a spokesperson for the company.

The Green Halo’s Victoria Poulus says the dispensary at 7710 S. Wilmot Road plans to launch recreational sales in April.

Marana’s two dispensaries are moving to open as well. Nature Med, 5390 W. Ina Road, has a set a target date of Feb. 25. However, it may longer before Botanica, 6205 N. Travel Center Drive, opens their doors to the recreational customer. 

Owner Bryan Hill said it’s dependent on how fast he can prepare his staff for adult-use transactions, especially while COVID cases remain high in the county. He said he wants to make sure his staff is knowledgeable and prepared before Botanica announces a date. 

“We’re not in the business of doing anything half-heartedly or not fully contemplated, so there’s a component of staff training we need to do, as well as some technologies we need to figure out before we’re ready,” Hill said. “That could be as soon as the middle of February, or maybe it’s as late as the middle of March. It really just depends on how comfortable me and my management staff feel we’re doing this in the absolute most legal way.”

Hill is anticipating long lines of customers once his dispensary does begin adult-use sales, but said he believes those lines will be temporary due to customer inquisitiveness and other county dispensaries starting their adult-use sales programs. 

“When the first In-and-Out Burger opened up, people lined up for 12 hours for a hamburger,” Hill said. “I think there’s going to be a natural curiosity about it at the beginning. But we’re building up our infrastructure and managing our staffing levels to anticipate an increase in business.”