At age 96, Joe Maraia has seen and done a lot of things. But until Thursday, he had never bellied up to the counter of a cannabis dispensary and plunked down cash for $40 in marijuana-laced baked goods.

The image of Greatest Generation veterans like Maraia — who said he served in the Pacific with the SeaBees toward the end of World War II — suggests a certain distaste for “reefer,” as cannabis was once called.

But Maraia has an in at the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center, located across from the central Post Office in Providence: he’s the grandfather of the dispensary’s CEO. And the longtime former Cranston resident said he’s glad that in May Rhode Island became the 19th state to legalize adult-use recreational cannabis.

“I think they should join the rest of the nation and I think it’s good,” he said while making a ceremonial first purchase of cannabis-infused coconut macaroons at the Slater Center. “If that’s what the people want, why shouldn’t they get what they want?”

Maraia said he planned to sample the product — his first experience with marijuana — over coffee later in the day.

Shifting public attitudes have propelled legalization efforts in a number of states. Rhode Island legalized sales of medical marijuana in 2006. (The Slater Center is named for the late state Rep. Thomas Slater, a driving force in the legalization of medical marijuana.) Massachusetts legalized recreational marijuana in 2016.

The Slater Center has sold medical marijuana since 2013. It is one of five dispensaries, along with others in Pawtucket, Central Falls, Portsmouth and Warwick, that began selling recreational marijuana Thursday. A short line of consumers started forming outside the Slater Center ahead of its 8 a.m. opening.

The state has approved plans to license up to 33 cannabis shops, but that process is expected to take years, in part because the agency that will oversee licensing, the Cannabis Control Commission, has yet to be appointed by the governor.

The state expects recreational sales will mean millions of dollars in additional revenue for Rhode Island, including for the cities and towns hosting recreational sales. Some law enforcement officials cite concerns about a possible increase in impaired driving.

Buying cannabis at a dispensary like the Slater Center is quite different than buying on the illegal market. The vibe is more akin to buying stylish goods, like at an artisanal ice cream shop. The store offers cannabis in an array of products, from the traditional smokeable “flower” to tinctures and edibles.

Credit cards are not typically accepted for recreational sales due to the fact that cannabis sales remain illegal at the federal level. Whether consumers can smoke in public depends on the law in different Rhode Island cities and towns.

Ian Donnis can be reached at