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It was a birthday like no other for John Garcia, who turned 51 Thursday.

The rain canceled the construction job he had lined up for the day, so he decided to treat himself to something he hadn’t done before: Walk into a Santa Rosa dispensary and buy cannabis. No medical recommendation required.

“Can you believe this? This is incredible,” said Garcia, who lives in Petaluma. “Trying to get weed was a major ordeal years ago — waiting in dark alleys for a friend of a friend. Now we don’t have to do that anymore.”

Recreational sales of cannabis began Thursday morning in Santa Rosa, the third city in Sonoma County to allow businesses to begin selling marijuana to any adult age 21 or older.

SPARC dispensary on North Dutton Avenue opened at 9 a.m. and was the first of the city’s three dispensaries to begin sales to customers without medical recommendations. The city gave its three existing medical marijuana dispensaries permits to begin adult sales one week ago, and the organizations then had to secure state licenses. Two of the three have done so.

Sonoma Patient Group on Cleveland Avenue will begin recreational sales Friday when the dispensary opens at 10 a.m.

“We’ve had to turn away some and have been getting a lot of phone calls since the first of the year,” said Sonoma Patient Group founder John Sugg. “The demand is there.”

Karen Kissler, owner of Alternatives health Collective on Hampton Way in Roseland, said she is still waiting for a temporary license from the state and she expects it to arrive any day.

“The wait, it’s maddening, because we’re so excited,” Kissler said.

So far, 173 cannabis dispensaries across California have received state licenses to begin recreational sales, which could start Jan. 1. In Sonoma County, Mercy Wellness in Cotati and two dispensaries in Sebastopol, SPARC’s Sebastopol Avenue location and Solful on Gravenstein Highway South, opened doors the first day of the year to any adult 21 or older.

In Santa Rosa, Garcia spent just under $100 on cannabis flowers, a strain called chocolope from a batch grown outside in Mendocino County, which he hoped would be energizing for a day playing his favorite video game, Battlefield 1.

“I’m staying home, I’m going to treat myself,” Garcia said.

Check back for updates.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or On Twitter @jjpressdem.

Find more in-depth cannabis news, culture and politics at, authoritative marijuana coverage from the PD.