Depending on where you live, driving past a marijuana dispensary isn't as uncommon as it was, say, 10 years ago. With more and more states in the U.S. legalizing marijuana and giving residents the option to smoke without punishment — with restrictive laws, of course — it's safe to say that the war on drugs is a little less aggressive on cannabis.
And, because I live in the great state of Washington — which was one of the first and remains to be one of the most lenient in terms of marijuana usage — it's hard not to smell the aroma of weed floating around different parts of the state. In fact, since moving up here five years ago, I've found myself more intrigued by the business of cannabis, along with some of the various marijuana products that are helping to impact the industry.
So, when I was introduced to Bloom City Club, which is the first and only female-owned and operated marijuana dispensary in Michigan, I was more than just intrigued. Remember, nearly every state has different laws and restrictions when it comes to pot, so learning the ins and outs of Bloom City Club was interesting.
That's why we spoke with Allison Ireton, Legal Counsel for the aforementioned marijuana dispensary, to get some advice on what it takes to run and operate such a pot shop. From things like biggest obstacles to interesting products purchases, Allison opened up to let us know why Bloom City Club has become so socially accepted in the city of Ann Arbor, and how anyone interested in running their own marijuana dispensary needs to know what they're doing before even thinking about it — because it's quite the process. Keep reading to see what Allison had to say.
FHM: What Are The Biggest Obstacles To Starting A Cannabis Dispensary?
Allison Ireton: "There are so many obstacles to running a dispensary that it should not be attempted by anyone who isn’t 100 percent committed to working through tedious and challenging processes on a regular basis."
"One of the biggest obstacles to starting a cannabis dispensary is finding a location. First, you have to find a municipality that will allow dispensaries and find a properly zoned parcel. Unless you're already in that municipality, and/or know people who are on the local city council or township planning board, you will be in a bidding war for 'green zone' properties. Successful bidders will be well-funded and have access to cash. For example, it was not unusual for bidders to give property owners non-refundable cash deposits on a handshake deal for Detroit properties."
"If securing property is your obstacle, find and establish an exclusive relationship with a Realtor that knows the zoning laws, knows the local area and if following the progression of rule-making in the municipality. Also, know that many great locations are not publicly for sale. If you see an underperforming business in a space that you would like to occupy, reach out to the business owner and see if they will sell it or rent it to you."
"If you live in an area with a competitive or 'scored' licensing process, then the second biggest obstacle is going to be submitting a winning application. Do not pinch pennies on this step. Find an experienced application writer who know the laws of your state. Do not rely on a business attorney who does not have experience with the drafting standard operating procedures sections of a cannabis industry application. At this point, 'cannabis application writer' is a specific job with a specific set of industry knowledge and skills. Don't just hire some amateur! Ask an application writing company or individual how many licenses they’ve been awarded. A professional application writer should also have a policy that they will not work with a company that is directly (or sometimes indirectly) competing with yours depending on how the State is awarding licenses."
FHM: What's The Most Interesting Purchase/Customer You've Ever Had?
Allison Ireton: "We get a lot of senior customers — over 65 — that haven’t smoked marijuana since the '70s, so that creates a lot of fun conversations. They joke with us about the seeds and stems, or they tell us stories about smoking joints in college during the Nixon era. They like old-time landrace strains like Acapulco Gold. We also sell quite a few suppositories which leads to some interesting conversations."
FHM: What's A Common Misconception About Running A Cannabis Business?
Allison Ireton: "The presumption that running a marijuana dispensary is an easy path to instant riches and that 'cannabis sells itself'. It's true that there is a high demand for cannabis products, but many markets have a lot of competition and, ultimately, traditional retail principles apply. The store with the best products, selection and the best customer service will win every time — and that costs money. A marijuana dispensary has to deliver that top-notch customer experience while remaining compliant with State and Local laws, which often makes the shopping experience more time consuming and cumbersome."
"Compliance measures, and the 280E tax burden, which disallows ordinary business expenses like rent and advertising, also increase operational expenses and the profit margins are much tighter than in traditional retail. A cannabis business, especially a dispensary, should only work with attorneys and CPA’s that have industry experience. Professionals with specialized knowledge often charge a little more than traditional business advisors because they are worth it. So, in the end, a marijuana dispensary has to deliver a lot of quality, under a strict set of rules and on a tight budget, to be successful."
FHM: Since You Formed The Dispensary, How Has The Area's Culture Surrounding Marijuana Changed?
Allison Ireton: "We're in Ann Arbor, which is a progressive community that has been largely pro-cannabis since the 1970’s. When we first opened Bloom, however, a local business across the street was a little upset because they didn’t know what to expect. We find that most communities and neighbors have an initial 'not in my backyard' mentality about provisioning centers. After we opened, however, the neighbors came to accept and even embrace the shop because we built out the store to blend into the community. Bloom is located in a neighborhood and we have never had any complaints from parents walking their children to school in front of our shop."
FHM: How Would You Recommend Consumers Go About Purchasing Cannabis?
Allison Ireton: "If you're a first timer, or a first time in a long time, weed consumer, ask friends for recommendations. Don’t be afraid to have that conversation. Also, look at individual websites and Instagram feeds to see what the environment is or the dispensary culture looks like. Does it resonate with you? Select an establishment that promotes education, quality and community engagement over deals/sales or high THC levels and you will increase your chances of a successful experience."
Lead image via Instagram/a2bloomcityclub.