Juneau’s first marijuana sale goes without a hitch

Even the mayor was there.

On Wednesday night, Rainforest Farms made the first legal sale of marijuana in Juneau and the first in Alaska off the state’s road system. The sale took place at an invite-only opening for Juneau’s first retail marijuana shop, but when more than 50 smiling people walked through the doors starting at 5:30 p.m., it felt more like a grand opening than a test run.

The first public marijuana sales in Juneau will take place today, when the store on Second Street opens to everyone over age 21.

Tera Ollila arrived at the store Wednesday night to support her daughter, who just started work at Rainforest Farms, but when she bought 1 gram of marijuana for $21, it was the store’s first sale to someone other than a store employee or this reporter.

“I was just curious,” she said of her thoughts when she stepped into line and now, into local history.

Marijuana might be legal in Alaska — it’s been permitted in private homes for almost 40 years under an Alaska Supreme Court decision — but Ollila was reluctant to be named because she works for the state and wasn’t sure if it was allowed.

Shawn Calhoon, another state employee, triumphally declared, “I got some marijuana, man!” after exiting the store’s front door but admitted some trepidation about how his purchase might be seen by others.

In the crowd within the store was Juneau Assemblyman Jesse Kiehl, who works as an aide to Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau. As far as he knows, there’s no rule prohibiting most state employees from buying marijuana legally. Ferry system employees and snowplow drivers are tested for marijuana, but ordinary workers aren’t.

After his explanation, Kiehl walked over to the other side of the shop to shake hands with Rainforest Farms co-owner Giono Barrett, and the two men posed for pictures.

Kiehl was following in the steps of Juneau Mayor Ken Koelsch, who had done the same just minutes before. Koelsch said he wanted to be at the store on opening night to welcome a new business to the community.

He said he wasn’t planning on buying anything.

“I haven’t tried it yet,” he said.

Wednesday night marked the culmination of a two-year process for Giono and James Barrett, the principal figures behind Rainforest Farms, which includes a marijuana farm as well as the retail store. A commercial kitchen for marijuana edibles is in the works.

Minutes before the doors opened, the Barretts were still pricing products and hanging items on the walls.

“We’ve got to make sure we follow the laws,” James said as he pounded a nail into the wall so he could hang a state-mandated warning sign.

Two years ago, the Barretts were practically a two-person operation. Now, they have 16 employees. Among them is manager Andrea Lim, who moved to Juneau two months ago.

Lim is from Singapore and attended Reed College, where she wrote an undergraduate dissertation about the marijuana legalization process in Alaska.

During her research, she met and interviewed Giono Barrett. When she finished her studies, he offered her a job.

Through the first half-hour after the doors opened, the line moved steadily and happily as customers exchanged cash for sealed white paper bags containing sealed plastic bags of marijuana.

Thanks to federal banking restrictions, the marijuana industry operates on a cash-only basis. On opening night, 1 gram sold for $20, an eighth of an ounce for $60 and a quarter-ounce for $110, and individual purchasers commonly put down hundreds of dollars apiece.

Rainforest Farms is the first marijuana retailer to open in Juneau, but it won’t be the last. A second store is expected to open on Front Street in early 2017, and a third store is in the permitting process for Mill Street in the Rock Dump district.

Five more stores are in the planning process.

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