California Dispensaries are the new Apple Stores: Weed is Trending

The dispensary in West Hollywood looks more like an Apple Store than a place to buy weed. No tinted windows. No burglar bars. And, no beefy security guards.

The MedMen dispensary on Santa Monica Boulevard is a case-study in the effort to normalize a drug that is still classified by the federal government as illegal, on-par with cocaine or heroin. Instead of the standard high-security California dispensaries, that were almost nerve-racking to go into, there are a half dozen budtenders in identical wear working off an Ipad. This is going to be the new face of legal weed.

‘We’re trying to get rid of stoner culture,’ MedMen marketer says. ‘This is relatable for everyone’

“I think it’s exciting to be in a world where this is becoming more normal,” patient, David Julius says with a smile.

California Dispensaries are Upscale and Hi-Tech

california dispensaries are ahead of the game and going to change the face of weed
A customer browses through a cannabis menu using an iPad Jan 1st at MedMen. via CBC

BJ Carretta, MedMen’s head of marketing, points to the row of iPads that are beautifully displayed on wooden tables.

“So you can see the way this is all laid out. It’s very inviting for people,” Carretta says.

“We also have these little bud pods,” he says, opening the sliding door of a small glass container holding some cannabis flowers. He takes a sniff. “You could open it and get a smell of the actual product,” he says.

Customers are watching as workers prepare orders as though it were a high-end restaurant. In addition, a huge selection of edible cannabis products displayed in a row of fridges. It’s actually more reflective of a Whole Foods store than a traditional dispensary.

Companies are offering more and more edible products with the aim of putting cannabis in things people already know and understand. MedMen sells everything from cannabis-infused granola to pet treats with THC.

“It’s an environment that they’re comfortable in, to get rid of that stigma,” Carretta says. “It’s education, education, education.”

Marijuana Marketing is Changing too

california dispensaries are hoping to make the biggest movement
A team of employees showing off the hi-tech, clean and professional run store. via VoyageLA

Marketing marijuana isn’t straightforward. Companies are restricted from advertising on traditional media. Hence the focus on the in-store customer experience.

In traditional stoner culture, cartoons held a lot of relatability. With the change of law and the concern over child-use, those days are over. Consumers want a place that is professional, respectable and has safe products.

California dispensaries are hi tech and popular
MedMen’s newly opened West Hollywood-flagship collective is like the Apple store for medical weed. via Merry Jane

The final decision to allow recreational sales rests with each city. As of Jan. 1, the majority of California’s almost 500 cities hadn’t given their consent. In addition, only two cities out of 88 in L.A has been permitted recreational sales.

“Currently, 86 of the 88 cities in L.A. (County) do not allow recreational sales,” Alexa Halloran, an attorney specializing in cannabis law says. “The only cities that currently allow are West Hollywood and Los Angeles.”

Not to mention, Los Angeles will only begin accepting applications Jan. 3.  This means customers in this city of almost four million won’t be able to buy cannabis recreationally for weeks. On the other hand, they could eventually have the power to help reshape the economy.

California Dispensaries are lighting it up
Adam Bierman, left, is co-founder and chief executive officer of MedMen. Andrew Modlin, right, is co-founder and chief operating officer of MedMen. via NNBW

The U.S. market for legal medicinal and recreational marijuana was already $6 billion last year. Now that the biggest state in the country has fully legalized, that market is forecast to grow to $50 billion in 10 years.

“I think a lot of eyes nationally will be on this,” Carretta says. “A lot of other states probably will be paying close attention to what happens.”

The fastest-growing demographic is older customers who might have been too nervous to buy illegal drugs. But they do have money to afford the higher prices of legal cannabis.

According to Carretta, a lot of MedMen’s marketing focus is on a specific subset: women who are choosing to smoke a joint instead of pouring a glass of wine.

Trish Gardner, 68, is a recent cannabis convert. But there are still so many unknowns, she says. For instance, how much can you smoke and then be OK to drive?

“The whole being under the influence is going to be an issue that’s not really been addressed,” Gardner says.

She believes legalizing cannabis may result in more research and, eventually, more answers. As for the rest, shiny stores and innovative treats are nice, but for her, the potential benefits of legalization come down to this:

“I hope the price goes down.”