Hello all and Happy New Year! I know I’ve already said Happy New Year but I’m really serious about this coming year being your best ever. Today, we’re going to discuss, which is a nice way of saying I think you should follow my advice and do as I say, the aesthetics of your new retail Cannabis space.
When I began researching layout and design for my retail Cannabis shop in Washington State, I only had Colorado to look at. And quite frankly, I was less than impressed. My wife Diane went so far as to say she’d never set foot in let alone stay in one of these shops I was examining. They were in no particular order; dark, dingy, dirty, and stocked full of mostly male employees who looked like a combination of bikers and and former wannabe tough guy bouncers!
When the first stores opened in Washington, about six (6) weeks ahead of my shop’s Grand Opening, I saw much of the same. But instead of looking at merely pictures and in some cases live streaming, I got to experience the actual, human, sort of, experience. So in addition to the loads of shades of green and tatoos and tank tops along with general sloppiness, I got to experience the real thing! Body odor, bad design and color schemes that looked like a local high school football team had put together. And perhaps the topper was the guy dressed nearly always in black, out in front of the store packing a firearm and checking IDs with all of the tact of an arresting law enforcement officer! Not inviting.
The problem was that I felt very strongly women would not feel comfortable in these environments. Now I know that sounds a bit sexist but I firmly believed and still believe we need to run our shops so that the girls, over 21 of course!, feel safe, secure, comfortable, and clean! After being in some these early shops, which felt more like head shops to me, I felt the need to immediately go home and shower! My shop is clean, brightly lit, and I dare say, cute.
It is a marvellously fun place to be and the girls love being in my shop. The guys feel good being in my shop as well, but I truly felt we needed to address concerns of the female customer and I believe after inquiring with dozens of female and male patrons, we have succeeded in creating a space where everyone feels great!
In addition, I observed the majority of employees and the majority of the customers in these early shops were in fact male. Cannabis Central of Ellensburg, my shop, is run by two (2) female managers. Half of my employees are female. We welcome all varieties of people; old and young, male and female, gay and straight, tall and skinny and short and fluffy! I need all people who are in my shop and who wish to spend their hard earned monies in my establishment.
One final but nonetheless vital point. Your retail shop will need to be brimming with positive energy and genuine enthusiasm. Some of your customers may be going through tough times, tough days. They may be dealing with personal issues, family issues, work-related issues. Make sure you try to make the visit to your shop the highlight of their day! We have a saying in the store and on the store literally, and that is “Spread the Happiness”. Be happy! Smiles are contagious! Our customers come to our store for a variety of reasons, too many to list here. But know they are hoping and in fact expecting to have a better day than they otherwise would have as a result of coming to see us in our shop. That is a big responsibility! Recognize that and never take that for granted.
Cannabis Business Consultant
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One of the most critical parts of your licensing journey will be finding the right retail cannabis location. This process can be frustrating, confusing, and demoralizing, but it doesn’t need to be. If you go into this with the right mindset and leave your ego at the curb, we can help you choose a location for your dispensary.
There are a few things you need to know, including your specific state, city, and county’s regulations regarding your location, foot traffic, and size.
Why finding a retail cannabis location can be so difficult
When you first get started with your application process, you may be required to have a location picked out in advance. This will be a good introduction into the reality of the cannabis industry if you haven’t got a taste of it already.
Be prepared for rejection, dead ends, and false starts. The battle you are fighting has many different moving parts. You will need to find a location that is compliant, with a landlord or owner that is willing to work with a cannabis business, and the location itself needs to be ideal for selling cannabis!
Know your state, city, and county regulations
The first huge hurdle you’ll face in finding a location for your retail cannabis store is navigating all the various regulations. If you are in a smaller city, this will be difficult.
For example, in Washington, dispensaries may not operate within a 2,000 feet diameter of a school, library, hospital, city parks, or daycares. If you were to pull up google maps and drop 2,000-foot circles on these locations (I recommend you do this), you will see that you are pretty limited in options. You may be forced to shop on the outskirts of town, in less trafficked areas. This is less than ideal, but part of the process.
Establish a relationship with realtors and landlords
In some areas, adult-use and medical cannabis is becoming very accepted. In other areas, such as Oklahoma, it is very new, and people are still widely uneducated on the plant. Once you have determined what areas you can legally operate in, the next step is getting on the phone with property owners.
When I was searching for a retail cannabis location, I was hung up on, shut down, and roadblocked around 40 times. Some of this may be due to them not liking what you represent (cannabis).
However, a lot of it will be them not knowing how doing business with a cannabis company will affect them, and potentially fearing how your presence could affect other tenants in the area they work with.
The bottom line is that in many states, cannabis is still a controversial subject, and people may be hesitant to conduct business with you.
Your best approach is being honest with these landlords, mortgage holders, or realtors – tell them your intentions are to operate a legal retail cannabis storefront and would like to discuss the possibility of renting out their location.
What to look for in the location itself
Once you have narrowed down your location options, hopefully, you have plenty to choose from. When selecting a retail cannabis location, there are a few things you should look for:
- Building size – The square footage of your potential building will be a huge factor in whether it is an ideal location or not. Most dispensaries operate out of 2,000 square feet or less. You don’t need a huge warehouse or commercial facility, a simple building will do just fine.
- Parking – Consider parking space as well – your customers will definitely remember their first experience at your retail cannabis location, and if they have to park on a side street and walk 5 minutes to your business, or cross busy intersections, they will not be happy. Finding a building with plenty of parking is ideal.
- Foot Traffic – I know it’s going to be difficult to get a prime location with plenty of foot traffic, and beggars can’t be choosers, but strategically consider your location. How visible is it from main roads? What other businesses are nearby that get lots of visitors? These are important questions to ask.
- Location Demographics – Many people wonder what the best demographic is for your retail cannabis location. Ideally, an above-median income demographic of younger, working folks would be the demographics of your location. The location itself should be in a nice area, to throw off the scent of that “pot shop” vibe and convey a professional, high-quality brand.
Get help finding your retail cannabis location
I can help you find a location for your retail cannabis storefront. This process can be demoralizing and confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. I’ve been in your shoes, and know what it takes to secure an ideal location for your business. Struggling to find a dispensary location was one of the many reasons CCN exists today, so I could help others through this same process.
If you want help or just have questions about choosing a location, reach out to me and I’ll help you navigate this cumbersome process. After all, your location will be a huge determinant in whether or not your business succeeds.
If you are wondering how to get a cannabis license, you are not alone. This industry is booming, with more and more legal cannabis shops obtaining their licensing.
Once you have become eligible for a cannabis license, it’s time to put in the real work and secure licensing through your state.
We are going to cover what it takes to snag that license, keep it, and thrive with it.
How to get a cannabis license: The Short Version
When we discuss how to get a cannabis license, we will mostly be speaking from the perspective of Washington State – because that’s where we obtained ours.
Now, there may be little variances for what is required of you in your state, but I would be willing to bet that for the most part, you will have to deal with something similar.
From a 60,000 foot view, obtaining a retail cannabis license can be broken down into two steps:
- Developing the business plans for your dispensary
- Actually carrying out the business plans for your dispensary
Developing business plans for your dispensary
To get the process started, in Washington state, we needed to develop plans for our retail cannabis storefront before we could even get the ball rolling.
This consisted of securing a location for the dispensary, acquiring funding, registering your business on a state and federal level, and essentially getting your ducks in a row. Then, you would supply all this when applying for your cannabis license.
If you are unable to complete this process, you won’t be eligible for obtaining a retail cannabis license – and thus cannot move onto step 2, which is carrying out the business plans for your dispensary.
Carrying out the business plans for your dispensary
Once you have shown the state that you should be a legitimate contender for a retail cannabis license, you will hopefully be selected for a license.
In Washington, we had a lottery. All of the eligible entrepreneurs had their names thrown in a hat, and a lucky few were selected to receive their licenses to operate a dispensary. There is a good chance this is how it will be in your state, too.
From there, the hard work can really begin. Luckily, you’ll have done much of the work to become eligible, and it is just a matter of execution.
Our experience getting a retail cannabis license
Cannabis Central has been in operation for over five years at this point, but we had some trouble at first.
We were selected in the lottery and began putting the pieces together to set up our retail storefront. However, we ran into some trouble.
Part of our business plan included our location. The location we had decided on was on railroad property. When we went through and did our due diligence, the company was supportive and all was good. Then, after we were granted our license, they changed their mind.
We no longer had a viable location.
The LCB (liquor control board, the regulating agency) gave us a week to find a new location.
It seemed impossible, and it would have been easy to give up. But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the cannabis industry, its that you need to expect the unexpected, and be resilient. It all worked out in the end, so I know a thing or two about facing adversity when it comes to getting a cannabis license by any means possible!
How your state factors into obtaining a retail cannabis license
As we mentioned earlier, your state plays a huge role in what steps you need to take. Different states will have different requirements, but for the most part, you’ll go through similar processes. After all, new states constantly use the existing framework from legal states to develop their own. Here is some quick info on how to get a cannabis license in each state:
In Alaska, legal cannabis is governed by the Alcohol & Marijuana Control Office. Per the Alaskan Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development, there are a few codes you need to review – including Title 17.28 of the Alaska Statuses and Chapter 306 of the Alaska Administrative Code.
Then, follow the instructions on the New License Application sheet. It covers many of the questions you likely have, but if you are still not 100% positive on what your next steps should be, let’s circle up and I can point you in the right direction.
The Arizona Department of Health Services runs the medical cannabis program in Arizona, and periodically offers new dispensary licenses.
This checklist by the AzDHS outlines their criteria for who can and cannot operate a licensed dispensary within the state of Arizona, and should you want to apply, this is what you would fill out. Again, don’t go in blind – let’s talk!
In Arkansas, there is a dedicated Medical Marijuana Commission in charge of the medical cannabis program.
The AMMC application requires a background check (as do all states), along with plenty of other documents and applications. The application page here is a good place to get started – let me know if you have questions.
California is a pretty mature cannabis market, with medical and adult-use programs. However, there are still plenty of opportunities in counties and towns with no existing storefronts.
You’ll have to work with the Bureau of Cannabis Control, or the BCC. On their site. You can find tons of information on how to get started, including this retailer application.
Another very mature cannabis market, getting a license in Colorado will differ based on whether you take the medical or recreational route. Regardless, you’ll be working with the Colorado Dept. of Revenue.
Both types of application will require that your specific county or municipality allows for retail cannabis storefronts, regardless of the states legal cannabis laws. A complete application packet includes your application, all necessary supporting documents, and of course, the licensing application fee.
The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection operates the state’s medical marijuana program. Periodically, they will open up more licenses, ranging from 3-10 at a time.
There is a pretty hefty fee to start a licensed cannabis dispensary in Connecticut, along with a stringent application process, which you can always reach out to me about if you run into problems (or even before you have them!).
In Delaware, the medical cannabis program is ran the Public Health Division, and they only offer a limited supply of licenses. As it currently stands, there is just one “compassion center”, with another couple opening soon.
You can apply online for a cannabis license, submit a petition, or just learn more about the medical marijuana program on their site.
In Florida, there is a subdivision of the Florida Health Department known as the Office of Medical Marijuana Use, which handles all licensing and regulates the industry.
The state has all it’s cannabis licenses currently accounted for and is not taking applications for more anytime soon.
The island of Hawaii currently has 8 licensed cannabis stores, and they are regulated by the state’s Medical Cannabis Program. On their site, you can learn about applying for the medical cannabis dispensary program.
This relatively new market is regulated through the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. Once you fill out your cannabis license application, you will hear back from the state either requesting more information or with conditional approval.
With a medical cannabis program just two years old, Louisiana only grants a few specially licensed pharmacies to sell licensed cannabis. The Louisiana Department of Health operated the medical cannabis program, and isn’t actively seeking new applicants for cannabis licenses.
There are currently 8 licensed cannabis stores in Maine, which are licensed through the Division of Public Health Systems. New licenses rarely become available, but you can apply for a cannabis license at any time.
The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission has licensed 22 dispensaries, with plenty of more currently working through the licensing process.
If you want to apply for a cannabis license in Maryland, you’ll need to provide your business plan, information about your medical facility, and a number of other supporting documents.
The Massachusetts Department of Health is responsible for regulating cannabis licenses. The first step in starting a dispensary in Massachusetts is acquiring an RMD Certificate of Registration, followed by an application with the Cannabis Control Commission.
Michigan has both medical and adult-use cannabis laws, and the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation is currently accepting applications for cannabis licenses.
On their site, you can find all the necessary information and forms, including the online application form.
If you are hoping to start a licensed cannabis dispensary in Minnesota, you are likely out of luck. The Minnesota Department of Health is not offering cannabis licenses currently, or anytime soon, and has selected two registered manufacturers to cultivate, and regulates 8 cannabis patient centers.
The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services operates the state’s medical cannabis program, and periodically opens up spots for new cannabis licenses. On their site, you can find information about applying for a cannabis license. You’ll need what is required in most states – proof of property, background checks, along with a host of other information. One cool thing about Montana is the low license fee of just $500.
The State of Nevada Department of Taxation regulates cannabis licensing, and as of writing this, there is no sign of licenses coming available soon. However, you can get on a waitlist and will be given a 45-60 day notice for when licenses are coming available, at which point you can apply for a cannabis license.
New Hampshire currently has four licensed dispensaries, which are referred to as “alternative treatment centers”. These are regulated by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. As it currently stands, no licenses are available, but you can follow their site for updates to stay in the loop and be ready to act at the drop of a hat.
The New Jersey Department of Health handles all cannabis licensing. Dispensaries in the sate are referred to as Alternative Treatment Centers, just like in New Hampshire. There are currently six licensed ATC’s, and as it stands, there are no new licenses available. The application window closed on the 22nd of August, but you can follow their website for updates on new license opportunities.
The medical cannabis program in New Mexico is operated by the Department of Health. To even be considered for a license, you must be a Licensed Non-Profit Producer. On their site, you can find information on the medical cannabis program, but they are not currently seeking new licensees.
New York’s Department of Health regulates the medical cannabis program, and only Registered Organizations are granted the opportunity to apply for cannabis licenses. However, the state has not been accepting new license applications for quite some time.
Up in North Dakota, a division of the Department of Health, known as the Division of Medical Marijuana, is responsible for the state’s medical cannabis program. While the state is not currently offering new cannabis licenses, you can still visit their site to find information on applications, background checks, products and limits, and statues on new license opportunities.
Ohio is a pretty new market, with its medical cannabis program less than two years old. The state has a few licensed cannabis dispensaries already, but they may offer more licenses over time. Their site has TONS of information on the application process, including videos on what is required, what you need to know, and all the necessary forms and documents.
The Oregon Liquor Control Commission License is responsible for the state’s medical cannabis program and constantly accepts new applications. If you want to know how to get a cannabis license in Oregon, head over to their site. There is just a $480 application fee, and you can find information on what you need to know before submitting an application, what the process is like, required documents, and what you need to do after applying for a cannabis license.
The Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation oversees all cannabis licenses in the state. They occasionally open up windows for new licenses, and they currently have just 3 licensed compassion centers. Head over to their site to learn about the application process, discover if licenses are currently available, and what your first steps should be.
In Vermont, the medical cannabis program is run by the Department of Public Safety. There are currently four licensed dispensaries, with a few currently in the works. The department has stated that once their program reaches over 7,000 registered patients, they will open up more cannabis licenses for registered dispensaries.
In Washington, we work with the Liquor and Cannabis Board. I know the most about operating a cannabis dispensary in this state, due to my experience with Cannabis Central. At this time, all available licenses are accounted for, but you can learn more about retail cannabis licenses on the LCB’s site.
The D.C. Department of Health has a medical cannabis program, but at this time, it is not being operated. Adult-use and medical cannabis are both permitted, but there are no licensed dispensaries at this time. Yes, this is a head-scratcher, we know….
How to get a cannabis license: writing a killer application
A huge hurdle in being selected for a cannabis license will be standing out from the crowd with a killer application. The requirements and qualifications for your application are very stringent, so you can’t miss a single detail.
Before you even start filling out the application, do your research. This doesn’t mean run a few google searches, or even just this article – you need to do some real digging. Start a conversation with someone like myself, Rob Hendrix, who has been through this process. You don’t know what you don’t know, and finding out what that is exactly is a great first step. Then, get on the phone with the agencies involved – build relationships with the party responsible for licensing, and find out what they want from you.
Your city is likely going to hold open forums regarding legal cannabis coming to town. It is imperitive that you be at these meetings. You need to put a name and a face to your business, and engage the community. Be friendly, be open, and be curious – find out how people in your area feel about you opening a cannabis shop. The community may not support you at first, and its up to you to change their minds. Start building relationships with the right people, and you’ll set yourself apart from the crowd.
Use this knowledge when writing your licensing application
Once you have a better idea of what you’re up against, fill out your application to a T – don’t draw outside the lines. It goes without saying that your application needs to be as cohesive, and well written as possible – take it to your high school English teacher if needed.
Before submitting, run your application by a cannabis consultant
If you want an extra edge to make sure you have the best chance of success (you are paying money to submit this, after all), get an experienced set of eyes on your application. I started Cannabis Consulting Nationwide because I went through this process. I know how demoralizing, frustrating, and confusing it can be. Plain and simple – I know how to start a cannabis business.
I know what regulators want to see, and I know what they consider red flags. Reach out to me and let me help you with your application, or just reach out with any questions. You have a friend in this industry, and his name is Rob Hendrix.
This is Rob Hendrix with Cannabis Consulting Nationwide where I specialize in cannabis business consulting and advising. As you may know, I own a retail cannabis shop in the great State of Washington. Since opening in August of 2014, we have been successful, profitable, most importantly, violation free. Its this last point I would like to discuss today.
It is a felony to sell any products containing cannabis to a minor. Doesn’t matter if it’s intentional or an honest mistake, it’s an epic violation and a major crime. There is a bill floating around in our State legislature which would lessen the severity of selling to a minor accidentally, but frankly I am assuming this change in the current law will not move forward.
For now, Congress feels the need to stay on top of those unreliable pot shop owners! Despite the bit of sarcasm in that last sentence, I take this very, very seriously. We talk about ID checks literally every day. It is a subject that cannot be overemphasized. One of the many issues you will run into when operating your dispensary is how to prevent underage cannabis use.
How we prevent underage cannabis sales at our dispensary
We have a list of acceptable forms of ID here in Washington State. And it is the law that no one under 21 can even be on the premises, let alone make a purchase. There are exceptions for minors who possess a legal medical card, but that’s a cumbersome discussion, so I’ll save it for another article. There are actually different rules pertaining to acceptable forms of ID for purchasing cannabis than tobacco and/or alcohol. It’s much more stringent for cannabis, of course!
At the end of the day, it is up to you to make sure you are ID’ing your customers and keeping records. If you follow your state’s regulations to a T, you will be safe in the eyes of the government.
Problems with ID’ing cannabis patients and customers
But here’s my problem with these rules pertaining to ID and what is acceptable or not. It is not a violation of the law to accept an unauthorized form of ID, or even choose not to ID a customer. It is only a violation of the law to allow minors to loiter on the premises and of course, it’s a violation, and felony, to sell cannabis or cannabis-infused products to a minor. Mey point is I am hearing shops are turning people away who possess an expired driver license or some other form of ID they deem unqualified even if the individual in question is obviously over the legal age of 21.
This is nuts! The laws in my state have been written put shop owners in a tough spot. They make you feel like ONLY individuals who possess and present an acceptable form of ID can be served, regardless of other evidence known to the employee or shop owner. Case in point; a shop near my store, in Yakima, Washington had a repeat customer with an expired driver’s license. Even though the shop employees knew his name and face, they refused to serve him. He was 62 years old! This is lunacy.
I will never attempt to minimize the importance of never, ever selling to a minor. This is a major violation. In the big picture, it’s a major component in our industry being accepted as a mainstream business. Many in opposition to the legalization of cannabis fear the “normalization” of cannabis can and will lead to an uptick in minor usage and consumption.
It is a critical part of our public relations battle to be seen as legitimate. To do this, we must accept the immense responsibility that running a retail cannabis shop entails. Having said that, one must remember that while selling to a minor is a violation of the law, it is not a violation to use your past experience and knowledge and common sense to determine that a customer is of age by means other than those stated in the law(s).
Be smart, be thorough and be ready to defend and stand behind your decision. It is on you to ensure that any individual standing in your retail establishment is not a minor, and is eligible to be served in your store.
I know how restrictive and suffocating my state’s regulatory framework is. I also know how it can make a person paranoid, always looking for threats to his/her livelihood. To a degree, this is wise. Always use your brain to do the right things and yes, follow the letter and the spirit of the law. This is your single best tool in the ongoing attempts to run your shop in a squeaky clean fashion.
You’ll be proud of the way you run your shop and you’ll sleep much better at night knowing you’re doing things the right way for all concerned. Especially a 62-year-old customer who has an expired ID!
We have a specific protocol we follow at Cannabis Central, my licensed dispensary in Washington State. The same procedure would probably work for your storefront as well. Here at CCN, I love sharing what’s worked for me with other players in the industry. Contact me if you want to chat more about this! I’d love to help teach you how to prevent underage cannabis use.
Happy New Year! I hope sincerely 2019 will be a banner year for you all. Whether you’re a grower, processor or a retailer, 2019 will present opportunities for improvement, but it will also have its share of disappointments and setbacks. Such is the nature of such a new and still controversial industry. You only have to look as far as my Northern neighbor, Canada, to see the good, the bad and the ugly of Cannabis in the modern day.
You would have thought Canada legalizing adult use Cannabis from sea to shining sea would have been an unbelievable turn for the better in that Country. But alas, the Canadian government was ill-prepared for this bold move. Side note warning: I had a really bad basketball coach when I was in high school. He always stressed to us players the following pearls of wisdom; “Be quick but don’t hurry”. I wish Canada could have heard and taken to heart those words of wisdom. Canada wanted to hurry and assume a leadership role in this burgeoning industry throughout the World. And in the words of the same really bad high school basketball coach when asked what our problem had been on a night where we got annihilated, “We only had two problems; our offense and our defense”. Canada has only two real problems; its wholesale system and its retail system.
The growers, for a variety of reasons, have been unable to hit production projections and subsequently, the retail shops have not had nearly sufficient levels of product to sell. This creates all sorts of problems. There is a flourishing “gray” market in Canada. By definition a “gray” market is very nearly a “black” market in reality. It is not subject to the same rigid controls, laws and restraints that the “legal” shops have to contend with. But, in an ironic twist, the gray market stores are the only ones who can satisfy demand and take care of the Cannabis consuming public. To add insult to injury, because they are a fixture in Canada, especially in British Columbia Province, and because they are currently serving the needs of the residents of BC, the local law enforcement is not even considering cracking down on these semi-illegal/semi-legal shops, not yet at least And where do suppose these gray market shops are getting their products to sell from, and plenty of product too, I’m told? You guess it, “gray” market grows who are also not subject to the same rules, regulations and restraints as the legal grows are. Its quite a vicious circle.
Its especially discouraging for me to see this unfolding as it is because Canada sits on top of the USA and British Columbia and its largest city, Vancouver, sit immediately on top of Washington State. Now don’t get me wrong, I love my State. I love what we’ve been able to accomplish and I love what we have as an industry today. But we’ve been at this for nearly five years now. When we started, believe me when I tell you from experience, our system was a MESS. It took some time, many months, for us to get the system working so it could survive, let alone thrive. Wasn’t Canada watching and observing our troubles and our challenges? How in blazes did Canada make nearly exactly the same errors nationwide as we did here in the Evergreen State of Washington? How could they do this when they had an open classroom to learn from and and begin strong and operating smoothly right from the get go?? How could they not have learned ANYTHING from their Southern neighbors??
Oh Canada. You will ultimately get it all figured out because your citizens will demand it. But what is needed is strong leadership at the highest levels of your government. Strong and intelligent decision making will be necessary along with a dose of compassion tossed in for good measure. Make the difficult calls, do what must be done but fix this and quickly. And a word of advice: Be quick but don’t hurry.