Not Vancouver, British Columbia—a Canadian city sometimes called “Vansterdam” due to its tolerant ganja policies, its seed banks, its cannabis cafes. That Vancouver doesn’t allow the sale of recreational marijuana.
I purchased perfectly-legal, taxed-and-licensed cannabis from a Vancouver, Washington, store—situated a mere ten minutes north from Portland, Oregon. However appropriate or not its moniker may be, the shop where I purchased the marijuana from is named New Vansterdam. (It’s located in a strip mall near a Papa Murphy’s, a Safeway, a Radio Shack, and a church.)
New Vansterdam caters to cannabis consumers in Southern Washington. And (ahem, cough cough) due to its proximity to Portland, smokers from Oregon—who technically aren’t supposed to bring the goodies back home across the two highway-bridges (I-5 and I-205) that span o’er different sections of the mighty Columbia River.
Portland has legal medical marijuana and regulated dispensaries, but there aren’t any stores catering to non-medical users or tourists quite yet. (Oregon will vote on allowing taxed and regulated cannabis sales this coming November.) If caught with under an ounce of marijuana in Oregon, you can receive a $100 decriminalized fine. That’s according to a unique and informative video put together by the Portland Police Bureau at the advent of Washington State’s new marijuana laws.
Vancouver, Washington began allowing legal sales on July 11th, three days after Seattle did. (In comparison, legal sales began in Colorado in January.) On Sunday July 13th, I drove from Portland (where I happened to be visiting) to Vancouver, finding myself the twentieth person in line at New Vansterdam, fifteen minutes before the store opened. A retired couple, originally from the California Bay Area, held the places in front of me. “We’ve been waiting for this day since the ’60s,” the husband said. Unfortunately, he would be waiting a little longer, since he soon realized that he left his wallet and driver’s license at home.
Beginning around 11 AM, his wife and I—and the rest of the crowd that had grown behind us—were slowly allowed into the establishment by the security guard who checked our ID cards. Then we had to flash them again for a friendly woman behind a glass counter; nearby, an electronic sign listed the sativa, indica and hybrid strains carried by the shop. Next, groups of us were buzzed into an expansive room, and given a breakdown on the actual weed availability by an affable concierge of sorts. (A cannacierge? The dispensary term “budtender,” didn’t quite fit—since he wasn’t actually handling the weighing or sales of the buds.)
Due to heavy demand during the store’s first two days of business, we were told that only about six strains remained, all indica-dominant: e.g., Copper Kush, Sweet Lafayette, and Godzilla. Purchases would be limited that particular day to only four grams (which would be sold as two, pre-packaged, two-gram bags). Unfortunately, the shop’s single-gram bags had run out over the previous two days. Like the young man who told me he was shopping there “to be a part of history,” that’s what I was doing in Washington—and I was only interested in obtaining a token amount in order to achieve that status. The two-grams bags were selling for a spendy (for Denver-based me) $40-$45. (Placing a call to the store on July 25th, the voice message stated that New Vansterdam was temporarily closed due to being “all out of product.”)
Long wooden counters filled the space; iPads rested on top of them, so people could, for instance, review information on the strains available and the growers responsible for them. In one area, consumers were allowed to look at and smell examples of the different buds, which were contained for display purposes in individual white plastic containers that had slotted air holes and a magnifying lens covering the top. The buds looked decent, but nothing stood out as spectacularly odoriferous.
Purchases took place near the shop’s exit. I placed my order for a two-gram bag of Sweet Lafayette with the woman behind the counter and handed over my $45 (the receipt indicated that $3.49 of that total was tax). I received a hermetically-sealed, rectangular, black-plastic bag with an information label affixed to it. The label listed strain info (80% indica; a cross of Frankenstein and Lemon OG Kush); the grower (Nine Point Growth Industries of Kitsap County, WA); the THC content (18.8%); even the moisture content (3.71 %). It also contained warnings like “marijuana can impair concentration, coordination and judgment” and not to “operate a vehicle or machinery” after consuming.
Do not use heavy machinery is right. When I finally availed myself of it in a safe setting, I found Sweet Lafayette to be a sedative-like—as opposed to uplifting—strain. Not quite as “euphoric” as it was hyped in its description on the label, the strain was weighty behind the eyes, although with heaviness in the legs diminished. It wasn’t necessarily a couch-lock smoke, but certainly not one for when focus on a task at hand is particularly required. It would be best suited to listening to music on headphones, perhaps; although, without wearing headphones, I found peripheral sounds, like birds chirping, to noticeably stand out. Decent, I’d imagine, for casually attempting to follow a TV show before retiring for the night. Someone in line at New Amsterdam called it “a nice beginner’s strain,” but I’m glad my first were peppier sativas. The cannabis appeared dark khaki with dark orange hairs, smelled green, slightly peppery, with a mere hint of citrus and forest. The small nugs were dense inside, imparting an earthy—rather than zesty—flavor.
Did I consume the cannabis in a private residence in Washington State—as recommended by the Portland Police Bureau’s video? Or did I return to “Portlandia” with my pot from “Vantucky” (as liberal Portlanders sometimes call Vancouver), like I was some kind of “invasive species”—which highway signs just over the state line into Washington warn about? (Although the signs refer to Scotch Broom weeds, I think, and not marijuana devotees.)
Within minutes of exiting New Vansterdam, I was driving past several yard signs for conservative political candidates, as well as one opposing abortion, near the entrance to I-205 South.
Story and photos copyright Gregory Daurer, who has written for High Times, Culture, Salon.com, Juxtapoz, The Huffington Post, Headpress, Draft, and Denver’s city magazine 5280. His first contribution to High Times appeared in 1990, making him one of the longest-standing writers to cover Colorado’s cannabis beat.