The first time I spent any time in Vancouver was in the mid-’90s, drawn by the prospect of making out with my house-sitting girlfriend in a land devoid of parents and Oregon law. The house was an off-white and beige new build on the I-205 side of our northern suburb. There was a new movie theater. I remember seeing Office Space there. No one laughed.
Back in the ’80s and ’90s, Vancouver attracted the metro area’s most ardent tax escapists, and the city furled out eastward to become a disgusting haze of auto dealerships and Blockbusters. It’s mostly relevant as the butt of jokes, and otherwise relevant as a potential traffic jam on the way to Seattle or Astoria. Except now I have friends asking honestly if traffic patterns have changed.
Traffic patterns have certainly changed near Main Street Marijuana on the north end of downtown Vancouver, where a chill bro checks IDs outside an old storefront that recalls a small-town pharmacy.
Tourists mill around nervously. On July 9, when the shop opened, the line stretched down the block, and business has been steady since, even if there isn’t actually any weed for sale.
Demand has far outstripped legal supply, and Main Street ran out of product days ago. The clientele has slowed to a steady stream of curious customers—still busy, even without a gram of shake for purchase.
People are just curious what it looks like. Heck, I was just curious what it looks like, and I’m one of 68,000 Oregonians who can already go into a medical shop and buy a huge bag of bud—great bud—at a fraction of the price charged in Washington.
Still, I went to Vancouver. I spent two days, just hanging around, talking to people and writing. Because, well, weed is fucking legal there. There’s a contact high, even without any weed available. I mean, I have weed. There’s no reason for me to wait in line and pay three times the price for strains widely available at dispensaries across the river.
And yet, once I got up there, I just sorta hung out. What’s happening here feels big and important. It’s a spectacle. Maybe someday I’ll tell my grandkids I witnessed history, then ask them to pass the hyperbong and fire up Grand Theft Auto: Edmonton on PlayStation 13.
Inside, the shop is laid out like a Vice writer’s idea of a nouveau jewelry store, with an inner round of display cases stacked with a strong selection of glassware, stash boxes and other head-shop fare. Another row of displays rings the wall, but these cases are empty for the time being.
“It’s not like we were surprised there was a line five blocks long, but what can you do?” says Adam Hamide, Main Street’s manager, a Camas-born local. “No one’s done this before.”
The shop would’ve sold out the first day, but chose to hold some weed over for visitors. New Vansterdam, which set up on the east end of the city, ran out just as quickly. The disarray can be chalked up to opening-day jitters and a shortage of product since it takes two or three months, minimum, to get weed from seed.
Most encouraging to Hamide are his demographics, which have been all over the map: “Lots of boomers, a lot of regular folks just wanting to check things out, who say, ‘I haven’t smoked since the ’60s.’ There was one old couple who stopped in for their 55th wedding anniversary.”
Most notable is that Vancouver has not yet burned to the ground, its citizens swept up in stoner ultraviolence. There’s a sense drivers are a little more confused, and maybe neighbors aren’t especially thrilled that their cozy burg is suddenly morphing into a hot spot akin to Alberta or Mississippi. Maybe the hubbub will melt away when cannabis is legalized south of the Columbia, and Vancouver will return to its sleepy, mass-transit-abhorring ways.
One thing’s for sure: A moratorium should be instituted banning all mockery of our northern neighbor until we legalize our own damn weed. Vancouver hasn’t been this important since John McLoughlin stalked the halls at Fort Vancouver. Vancouverites are the original pioneers—just like they were originally. But we’ll catch up, then overtake. Eventually, we’ll all get really baked and laugh about the time their dumb mayor smashed a bunch of Starbucks mugs because they had “Portland” printed on them.
“Vancouver is the fourth-largest city in Washington,” former mayor Royce E. Pollard said at the time, “and people better start showing a little respect.”
Pollard got his wish—that seems pretty weird to me. But I’m also a little high. I brought my own weed, obviously.