Time will tell, but right now there is no cookie-cutter cannabis store. You won’t find a floor plan like Wal-Mart, Target, or 7/11. Cannabis dispensaries and retail shops are still an evolving phenomenon, somewhere between the pressures of market and state regulations.
Early medical cannabis marketplace
Where medical cannabis dispensaries have operated legally for a few years, they have favored a barebones appearance. They feature a basic unimaginative and gray décor distinguished by green crosses on the windows.
In some cities, they opened their doors in low rent districts where they could serve a frankly dubious clientele. In the first days, their only competition was the black market on the streets.
So, the dispensaries arose where they could meet that market. Those customers who are looking for medical marijuana with quality control could opt for the dispensary, but those shopping for price would continue to stick to the street.
Taking it off the street
Cannabis dispensaries are still working on that pricing problem. But, the shopping habits of medical cannabis customers are turning away from the street.
The list of medical conditions eligible for medical cannabis treatment has expanded. As it has grown, the universe of patients includes a broader socio-economic market.
The demographics that sought approval for liberalized laws on cannabis access – medical and recreational – represent a market shift. It moves away from the scaley, stealthy, stoner crowd. The potential is, in the words of Raphael Danilo, a “transfer of wealth from a black market economy to legal private agents and the state.”
But, as Mike McDonald of Ember Studio writes, “The image of the industry hasn’t changed rapidly enough to make these would-be customers feel comfortable with becoming regulars at their local dispensary.”
Average age was 41.5 with half over 50. Per the University of Michigan study cited by Robb, “87% of the participants reported that they were seeking medical marijuana for pain relief, either alone or in conjunction with other reasons.”
Those who responded in the 348 study sample reported treating “spasms (n = 66), nausea (n = 41), musculoskeletal problems (n = 23), neurological (n = 18), cancer (n = 12), gastrointestinal problems (n = 11), glaucoma (n = 10) or chronic infection (HIV and Hepatitis C; n = 8)."
Kathleen Burke reporting for Market Watch quotes Derek Peterson, CEO at Terra Tech, “Disease tends to affect a broad cross section of people.” And, that radically diversifies the market.
As the market diversifies, it begins to shape the marketing effort in terms of physical location, store décor, square footage, packaging, and much more. According to Adria Such for TheFarmCo.com, “Marijuana dispensaries strive to make buying marijuana about much more than getting high.”
Designing the store
Retail cannabis shops will vary from one environment to another. A shop in Boulder, CO with its huge student population will differ from shops serving Aurora or Littleton. The ambiance in Oakland, CA will differ from the customer climate in Palo Alto or South Central L.A.
As providers discover efficiencies in process and economies of scale, some uniformity will arise in signage, language, and packaging. Until then, the respective state regulations rule.
Medical cannabis dispensaries and cannabis shops must be secured. They need protection from theft, burglary, and vandalism. So, they will typically have doors and windows tightly secured.
On entering, customers must pass a guard and present a legal I.D. in a lobby or waiting room. You wait there until your name is called, time you can spend reading the menu of items available.
In time, your name will be called, and you will be buzzed into the sales room. Once inside, you will find the available cannabis strains on display. In most cases, they display in glass cases or in large glass jars.
Ideally, the place will be well-lit, clean, and comfortable, and the display will include description of the product, its ingredients, and potential effects. Remembering that customers are sitting in the waiting room, you should proceed through your shopping with some focus.
Because touching the buds on display will damage them, the budtender or cannabarista will use chopsticks to trim the strain you want. You can also select packaged edibles like cookies, candies, and capsules. And, the clerk will package your purchases for you.
The medical marijuana dispensary, of course, requires a doctor’s prescription or medical marijuana card. They will enter the prescription into a database for future use, but you must renew the prescription annually.
They will discuss matching your medical needs with recommended products, and if you ask, they will explain how to smoke or use the product. But, in the most restrictive medical marijuana states, you will have little choice among the medical derivatives.
The adult-use cannabis store also requires your identification, proving you are aged 21-years or older. The state determines the right to purchase; for example, in Colorado, legal residents may purchase one ounce, and non-residents may buy 0.25 ounce.
Most dispensaries and shops work on a cash only basis, so if you want to use a credit card, you should call the outlet ahead of your visit. State protocols may prohibit smoking within so many feet of the store or smoking in public entirely.
What the future holds
Users should not expect dispensaries or adult-use cannabis stores to appear on every corner or fill the strip malls as ubiquitous as Starbucks.
State regulations require security measures including guards, locks, and surveillance cameras. They require temperature and humidity controls. And, they mandate point-of-sale procedures that will influence hardware and software.
Regulation controls entrance and egress, lighting and storage, and shipping and handling. All these directly and indirectly affect the architecture and layout. And, those influence the location options.
Customer traffic and their tastes will eventually differentiate stores in image and décor. The baby boomer males who want it might favor something along the lines of a cigar club. The middle-age women might prefer something softer, simpler, and sophisticated.
It will be a long time before the state cannabis commissions or control boards will make room for the diversity that alcohol purveyors enjoy under state regulation. Still, medical marijuana dispensaries will shake their public clinic dullness. Cannabis stores will step up to the competition configure appearance and service as branding. But, you are not likely to see express, discount, or outlet options.
The best advice to cannabis users – first time and veterans – is to buckle in because for a few years if will be a bumpy ride. In the meantime, first time visitors can be assured that there is nothing to fear in an environment where the people are so willing to help.