Both of Marana’s marijuana dispensaries have announced plans to expand to selling recreational cannabis soon, with one dispensary setting a firm date to begin adult-use sales.
Nature Med, 5390 W. Ina Road, expects to open to recreational sales on Feb. 25.
Botanica, 6205 N. Travel Center Drive, hasn’t announced when they expect to start adult-use sales, but did request to modify their dispensary’s Conditional Use Permit (CUP) to include recreational sales on their current premises with the Marana Planning Commission during last Wednesday’s meeting.
The commission unanimously approved the request.
According to town code, only existing medical marijuana dispensaries are allowed to sell recreational marijuana within the town limits and those dispensaries must be authorized as a dual licensee before sales can begin. Botanica owner Bryan Hill said he has been in contact with the town’s planning department since Prop. 207 passed last
“We’re seeking clarification on what our rights are,” Hill said. “The planning staff said the best way to do this was to go and formally spell it out in an amended CUP process and that way the town gives its express permission and we know we’re definitely operating in the clear.”
However, it may be several weeks before Botanica opens their doors to the recreational customer. Hill said it’s dependent on how fast he can prepare his staff for adult-use transactions, especially while COVID cases remain high in the county. He said he wants to make sure his staff is knowledgeable and prepared before Botanica announces a date.
“We’re not in the business of doing anything half-heartedly or not fully contemplated, so there’s a component of staff training we need to do, as well as some technologies we need to figure out before we’re ready,” Hill said. “That could be as soon as the middle of February, or maybe it’s as late as the middle of March. It really just depends on how comfortable me and my management staff feel we’re doing this in the absolute most legal way.”
The owner said he is anticipating long lines of customers once the dispensary does begin adult-use sales, but Hill believes those lines will be temporary due to customer curiosity and other county dispensaries starting their adult-use sales programs.
“When the first In-and-Out Burger opened up, people lined up for 12 hours for a hamburger,” Hill said. “I think there’s going to be a natural curiosity about it at the beginning. But we’re building up our infrastructure and managing our staffing levels to anticipate an increase in business.”
Adapting to the pandemic over the past year has already provided a model for Botanica to manage the situation, according to Hill.
“In many ways the pandemic was the thing that taught us about line management and crowd management. We thought about exactly how we serve people in a quick and expedient manner?” Hill said. “So we really revamped our online ordering system and that skyrocketed in popularity for us.”
The trend of customers moving to online hasn’t slowed down for the dispensary since they updated their system at the pandemic’s start. Hill said he believes online ordering is the new normal for his customers, but still expects to see lines when they open their doors to the 21 and over crowd.
Hill is also anticipating shortages in the supply chain as recreational marajuana sales begin, but he said he and other dispensary owners are taking the situation into consideration and making plans to help mitigate future shortages in product.
“Most owners in Arizona are concerned about the supply chain. What does it look like today? What does it look like in April?” Hill said. “It requires a lot of long term planning and it requires a lot of partnerships with vendors and suppliers to make sure we’ll be fully stocked.”
At least two other dispensaries in the Tucson area expanded from serving people with medical cards to all adult users in recent weeks after the Arizona Department of Health Services gave the green-light to recreational pot sales in late January, catching a lot of people in the industry off guard.
Harvest Enterprises, Inc., founded by CEO and Tempe native Steve White, had the first-ever Arizona adult use sale in its Scottsdale location and Harvest became the first Tucson-area dispensary to sell recreational marijuana, with patients waiting in line for hours outside the midtown outlet at 2734 E. Grant Road, on opening weekend.
Harvest’s opening came after the AZDHS allowed recreational cannabis sales to begin, letting dispensary owners know adult-use recreational sales can move forward as soon as licenses are approved and dispensaries are set up to handle both aspects of the market.
“This has been really surprising and gives an opportunity for us to have a conversation about how we don’t say a lot of good things about government,” White said. “But this is really a bang-up job by the department.”
White, who spent $2 million advocating for weed legalization last year, said it was important for Harvest to be the first applicant and first seller of legal cannabis in the state and his 15 locations throughout the state are all legally selling weed to adults over the age of 21.
Each application cost $25,000, so White also had to shell out $375,000 to get an early lead on the
But even he was surprised by the speed at which AZDHS reacted during a global pandemic.
Applications for adult-use sales began on Jan. 19, but were restricted to existing medical marijuana establishments that qualified for early “dual license” applications. The language of Proposition 207 that legalized cannabis use for adults over the age of 21 gave AZDHS two months to review and approve applications.
By late January, though, 86 licenses had been approved. Several Tucson dispensaries have also been authorized for recreational sales, including Desert Bloom Re-Leaf Center ), Green Med/Purple Med (6464 E. Tanque Verde and 1010 S. Freeway Drive), Prime Leaf (4220 E. Speedway and 1525 N. Park Ave.) and Nature Med ( W. Ina Road in Marana).
Desert Bloom Re-Leaf Center, 8060 E. 22nd St., also began legal sales last week.
Most Pima County dispensaries are not yet ready to start recreational sales, as there are several barriers to immediately expanding, not the least of which is the current state of the coronavirus pandemic still raging through the state.
Some dispensaries may also run into space issues, as local ordinances put caps on square footage, and there are likely going to initially be supply problems and employee shortages, as industry workers are required to become “licensed agents” through an application process with AZDHS.
David Abbott contributed to this story.