The marijuana dispensaries dotting the Baltimore region frequently have piqued the interest of Dorian Williams. On Saturday, the 30-year-old shipping manager stepped inside one for the first time.

“I’m excited to see what it looks like inside,” Williams said as he waited to walk into Far & Dotter in Timonium, where the shelves were stocked with cannabis gummies, chocolates and tinctures, pre-rolled joints labeled “Holy Gelato” and “Banana Hammock,” bongs that resembled elegant vases and T-shirts that said, “But first, weed.”

Maryland blazed into a new era Saturday, as dispensaries opened their doors to the public for the first time. People rolled into dispensaries across the state, their curiosity sparked by the new law, which allows people 21 and over to purchase cannabis with a state-issued ID.

Williams said he thought legal weed sales would usher in an era of more acceptance for cannabis use. “It will be like picking up a six-pack of beer,” he said.

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Customers line up outside the recently reopened Cookies dispensary Saturday. (Dylan Thiessen/The Baltimore Banner)

Dispensary owners and employees were eager to see how the first-day sales would play out. Many had arranged food trucks, music and giveaways to draw customers.

“If today is a sign of what the industry is going to look like in Maryland, it’s only going to grow,” said Hope Wiseman, an owner of Mary & Main, a Black women-owned cannabis shop in Prince George’s County.

As a line of customers wrapped around the store, Wiseman said the shop aimed to cultivate a warm and informative spirit.

“You can ask as many questions as you want because we really want you to be informed about what you’re doing, what you’re consuming, how you’re doing it,” she said of the shop she co-founded with her mother, Dr. Octavia Wiseman. “We want to be that place where you can get all that you need.”

Mary & Main customer Camille Fields said she was savoring the ability to buy marijuana legally.

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“I couldn’t have imagined this a decade ago,” said Fields, 29. “It’s good to finally be at a place where our stigma around marijuana as a gateway drug, or something bad that leads to something worse, has changed. You see all types of people out here today.”

At Far & Dotter, the flagship retail location of the Curio Wellness brand of marijuana, three generations of the Bronfein family, who own and operate the business, were joined for a ribbon-cutting by state Sen. Chris West, who represents the area, and Brent Howard, president of the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s a new industry with new opportunities for small business and new jobs,” Howard said. “Our legislature has been really thoughtful in planning to go about this.”

Wendy Bronfein, Curio’s chief brand officer and director of public policy, said the company had been preparing for recreational marijuana sales since voters approved the referendum by a 2-to-1 margin last November.

“We started the year with 250 employees, and we now have 320,” Bronfein said. “We have 30 openings right now, and we anticipate hiring up to 60 people by the end of the year.”

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Brent Howard, president of the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce, helps cut the ribbon with Curio CEO Michael Bronfein at Far & Dotter. (Dylan Thiessen/The Baltimore Banner)

Bronfein said Curio began ramping up production in January in the massive Timonium warehouse where the cannabis plants are cultivated. It has increased production at the Cockeysville plant where workers make tinctures, pre-rolled joints, and weed-infused gummies, chocolates and topical lotions.

At Far & Dotter, as at other dispensaries, one register is devoted to existing medical marijuana patients. Those who have a state-issued medical marijuana card can purchase larger quantities and higher concentrations of products. State law effective Saturday requires dispensaries to give priority service to medical patients either by providing a separate line or reserving dedicated shopping hours.

General consumers can purchase up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis flower, 12 grams of concentrated cannabis or cannabis products that include up to 750 mg of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Adults can purchase two plants to grow at home, although those who live in rental properties must secure the permission of their landlord.

Lines form at Gold Leaf dispensary in Annapolis. State law effective Saturday requires dispensaries to give priority service to medical patients. (Brenda Wintrode)

Several cannabis-themed events were planned for the weekend, including Puff Fest at Power Plant Live! in Baltimore and a three-day music festival in Western Maryland. Many businesses also found playful ways to mark the occasion. Diablo Doughnuts in Nottingham sold sugary treats shaped like blunts, the ends dipped in red sprinkles to evoke glowing embers. WTMD radio played many songs with cannabis themes, including the 1970 folk rock song “One Toke Over the Line.”

But there were many notes of caution. The Johns Hopkins University posted on social media that the use of marijuana was prohibited on campus, even for those with a prescription. Many police departments posted reminders that driving under the influence of cannabis is against the law, although police can no longer pull over a vehicle solely because it smells like weed.

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At Mana Supply Co. in Edgewater, Rich Tabor, the owner of Chesapeake Security LLC, stood guard. Tabor, a retired law enforcement officer, said he took part in many marijuana busts in the 1980s and 1990s. ”My job was to lock people up that had marijuana, and here we are today,” he said.

Dispensary owners reported brisk business but not overwhelming crowds. Bronfein, of Curio, said she thought sales would follow a similar pattern to 2017, when Maryland first legalized medical marijuana. There was an initial spike, followed by a lull and a secondary spike as word spread about the benefits of obtaining a medical card, she said.

At Blair Wellness Center on York Road in Govans, manager Gabriel Ali-el, 31, said there was a steady line most of the day. People were most interested in buying flower, the smokeable plant product, he said. “We make sure we have a lot of varieties. … We try to keep at least 100 strains.” Ali-el said he was impressed by the attitudes of people waiting in line on a sticky, warm summer afternoon. ”It’s been a lot of good vibes,” he said. “The faces that have come through, they’re coming through happy.”

Gabriel Ali-el, a manager at Blair Wellness Center on York Road, stands for a portrait outside the dispensary on July 1, 2023.
Gabriel Ali-el, a manager at Blair Wellness Center on York Road in Govans, said the day had "been a lot of good vibes." (Michael Hughes/The Baltimore Banner)

At Liberty dispensary in Hampden, Ray D. waited in line to pick up cannabis for his daughter, who uses it to manage pain. The 59-year-old declined to provide his last name because he works for the federal government. Federal employees are barred from using cannabis.

Ray said he was looking for an edible that contained both CBD, a non-psychoactive hemp compound often used to relieve pain, and THC. He said his daughter wanted to manage her painful chronic condition while avoiding opioids.

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Many people waiting in line at Gold Leaf dispensary in Annapolis were hesitant to share their names with a reporter because they didn’t want their employers to know they were buying pot.

One Gold Leaf customer, Heidi Sahmel, said she hoped that stigma would soon end. “I think that some of us are going to have to be those first folks to put ourselves out there and say that we’re for this, we support everyone here and we’re really excited,” she said. “This is such a positive change.”

The 37-year-old, who works in finance and has two master’s degrees, said it’s time to stop “looping cannabis in with other Schedule 1 narcotics.”

At Zen Leaf in Elkridge, the sight of eager customers made Vice President of National Retail Josh Kudisch emotional. He grew up in the area and remembers when the building that now houses the dispensary was a bank.

“You can’t compare anything to this moment,” Kudisch said. “I would never imagine that the place that I was going to get my groceries, my bagel, would have the opportunity for me to shop safely and have access to the plant in the way that we do now. It couldn’t be more gratifying.”

Ken Blackford, 60, was the first customer at Zen Leaf. He drove down from Baltimore City to purchase his flower and vape products. The longtime cannabis user said Saturday felt like Christmas. He hadn’t been in a dispensary since his medical card expired last year.

“I’m just happy to be here today,” Blackford said.

Before she goes into the dispensary, Heather Pielert's ID is checked by a Star Buds employee, while Joshua Revis waits behind her on July 1, 2023, Maryland's first day of recreational cannabis legalization.
An employee at Star Buds in Baltimore checks Heather Pielert's ID while customer Joshua Revis waits behind her on Maryland's first day of recreational cannabis legalization. (Dylan Thiessen/The Baltimore Banner)

In Hampden, 23-year-old Ray Smith was all smiles as he waited to enter Liberty dispensary.

The self-described “pretty solid pothead” said he was happy to buy marijuana from a store during business hours and know that the products were of high quality and had been approved by state inspectors.

“We feel a bit more free to do the things that we enjoy doing,” he said.

Smith said he uses cannabis for “recreational use and amusement, also for like … self-medicating, for like things like anxiety and stress that I’m dealing with on a daily. But I just kind of incorporate it into my routine to where I’m still productive and functional.”

At the Far & Dotter ribbon-cutting, Curio CEO Michael Bronfein, flanked by his wife, children, in-laws and many young grandchildren, urged new customers to begin exploring cannabis cautiously.

“Start slow, go low and figure out what’s right for you,” he said. “There’s no need to start with all kinds of craziness.”

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