Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about how cannabis can change the world. From wellness to sustainability, to social justice, to entrepreneurship, the possibilities are endless. Such sentiment has taken me down memory lane to my first visit to a medical dispensary in southern California in 2014. A time when dispensaries were medical-only operating under the Proposition 215 collective model.
It was a beautiful day in sunny San Diego. When I downloaded the weedmaps app into my iPhone 6. To my surprise, there were 6 dispensaries within a 5-mile radius of my home in Chula Vista. I made up my mind to go to the shop with the best reviews. When I arrived, the small parking lot was pretty much full with cars coming in and out. I had recently separated from the military so this was super new to me.
Upon walking in, I remember there was a waiting area and what seemed to be like a help desk with bulletproof glass. I waited my turn as there were about 5 people ahead of me. Some would sit down, and some were directed to enter another room after presenting their medical card. But altogether there must have been about 10 people in the waiting area and approximately every minute or so there was someone exiting the main room, in exchange for a person in the waiting area. As I approached the person at the desk, I saw what I can best describe as a hybrid of a secretary and an armed security guard. He requested my medical recommendation paperwork and ID and asked if it was my first time at the shop. When I confirmed, he gave me a form to fill out while he verified the validity of my medical card. As I sat to fill out the patient intake form, there was one thought in the back of my mind that I could not help but noticed: the heavy traffic flow in and out of the dispensary. I must have counted roughly 19 heads since I entered the parking lot! At first, it was my military training making me aware of my environment, but eventually, it transitioned into my entrepreneurial senses spiking up higher than they ever had before.
When I finally entered the salesroom. I remember thinking I had never seen so much weed in my life. There were huge jars full of frosty nugs, which they allowed you to pick with Chinese chopsticks. How cool was that?! I will never forget the smell. It was potent! But at the same time, it was so inviting and rugged (my preferred kind of vibe). Behind the counter, I saw an area that resembled the candy section at 711. They had gummies of all kinds, chocolates, hard candies, cookies, chips, crackers, mints, blow pops, even a fridge with ice cream, all kinds of things I had never imagined. Everything was infused with cannabis. I was in awe at the fact that I did not know that any of that existed so close to my home. When I got to the counter, I had no idea what to even ask for, so I just said what’s the best strain you have? At that point, my knowledge was limited to the fact that there are different strains of weed and that they were categorized as indica, sativa, and hybrid kinds. I also wanted to make sure I let them know I was there because of the same things I told the medical doctor who provided my medical recommendation. I felt that way mostly because of the fear of getting in trouble with the law or being judged, but still looking for something to help me cope with the gray cloud in my head and manage the physical pain. The latter was why I was introduced to cannabis in the first place. The budtender, a young man covered in tattoos with super chill attitude, made recommendations, I went with the ones that sounded fruity and for being my first time at the shop he gave me a free infused chocolate chip cookie and rolling papers with my order, which came out to be $120. As I walked out of the salesroom, I took a quick glance at the waiting area, and again, it was completely packed. This time, since I was aware of my senses, I intentionally wanted to get intel on the demographics. I noticed about 70% of them were males, ages seemed to vary (mid 20’s to maybe 60s), the women seemed the same age (mid to late 20s) and seemed to have been a group of friends based on their dynamics. That sparked my brain even more. Doing the math in my head as I walked to the car, I almost felt like I was high and I hadn’t even touched the nugs yet. Thinking simple math: if everyone there spent $100, and there’s a cycle of at least 30 customers per hour in a 10-hour shift 7 days per week, that’s a lot of cash. Half of that amount blows out the water your neighborhood’s friendly liquor store or smoke shop. My mind was blown. I literally walked past my car, being distracted by the math problem in my head. When I got to the car, I picked up the phone and called one of my sisters. I told her what I had just witnessed and she said: oh shit, mom is going to kill you, but if you strike gold count me in.
At that point, my research about cannabis went from an urge to find information about the science of it to justify my consumption to my hardcore Christian mom, to finding out more information about the green rush and business opportunities in the space. My mind was blown at the potential.
Fast forward almost 6 years later, there’s a cannabis program in more than half the states in the US and decriminalization programs are also underway; Canada is fully legal; Hemp and CBD were removed from the list of scheduled one substance, and most recently, cannabis was deemed an essential business and a pandemic proof industry.
Turns out the cannabis plant has so much potential to help our society ascend to the next level. But we have to do better! Big cannabis organizations continue to embarrassingly fall apart and be caught up in scandals and mismanagement of resources, thousands are still in jail for non-violent cannabis offenses, and social equity programs continue to stall. Until we address social justice or social equity, the legitimacy of cannabis as an industry will always be questioned.
I propose for all canna-preneurs to shift their focus as a collective (me included). Let’s prioritize these aforementioned issues within our business models and create radical changes that set us up for success, attract high-quality stakeholders into the space, and end the stigma once and for all.