Doors Open for Medical Marijuana

The first wave of dispensaries is up and running

Illustration by Cierra Pedro

Illustration by Cierra Pedro

It may have been a long, strange trip but Nevada’s medical marijuana patients and businesses are finally reaching the finish line. In recent weeks, we’ve seen local dispensaries open their doors to a rush of customers, and cannabis-business conferences have drawn increasing numbers of attendees to Las Vegas.

Inyo, one of the first dispensaries to begin serving customers, has been open about six weeks. “We’ve seen between 50 and 100 patients a day—about 15 new patients per day. Our average age is 44 years old,” part owner David Goldwater says. Thanks to Nevada’s card reciprocity, about 35 percent of Inyo’s customers are from outside Nevada. “They’re from all over: Michigan, California, Arizona,” Goldwater says.

However, Inyo’s roots are deep in its edge-of-Huntridge neighborhood. “I grew up in this area, and so did my partner,” Goldwater says. “We both went to the old Bishop Gorman on Maryland Parkway. I was born at Sunrise Hospital. I’ve repped this area in the Legislature.”

Customers speak highly of Inyo’s website, which offers visual aids and explanations for each strain, as well as the dispensary’s “budtenders,” who help them choose the right product for their problem.

Other dispensaries are still closing in on their opening dates. Michael Ahmad, chief sales officer of the Apothecary Shoppe dispensary, plans on being in business next month. “We wanted to be in a prime location where people could see where we are, where people drive by every day. Since we accept cards from all states, we can just tell people we’re across the street from the Palms,” he says. What’s inside was also carefully considered. “We wanted to have that old-fashioned feel, like a laboratory or a library,” he says, “I’ve been in hundreds if not thousands of dispensaries. We wanted something unique, so when you walk in you can feel the love and time we put into this place and hopefully, you’ll see that we’re going to put the same kind of love and time into serving our patients.”

Ahmad has been growing cannabis in California for 13 years and says he looks forward to changing the perception of his product. “We just want everybody to understand that all of this negative stuff they’ve heard is wrong,” he says. “Now we’re finally able to prove it to them. Doctors are coming forward now and giving testimonials. Before, they were scared of it.”

Given the nascent nature of the industry, right now dispensary owners see each other more as collaborators than competition. Riana Durrett, executive director of the Nevada Dispensary Association, says the group was created to help dispensary owners “develop best practices. We’ll get together and share notes.” She adds that “Nevada has a really big opportunity to be on the forefront of this industry. Our regulations set the gold standard for other states … so let’s usher in the most responsible, high-quality industry, and then we can worry about competing down the road.”

It’s a sentiment shared by many industry advocates.  At last week’s Medical Marijuana Business Conference at the Rio, the keynote speaker was consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who declared that people in the emerging cannabis industry “have the opportunity to do it right,” adding that “proper regulation is the best aspirin you could ever have, other than marijuana.” He called for standards in inspection and advertising, as well as openness to research.

Like the industry it serves, the conference has grown fast. Tripp Keber, CEO of Colorado’s Dixie Elixrs, remembers the first Medical Marijuana Business Conference in 2012: “It was in a janky Freemason’s building, a firetrap. There were about 100 people, and my booth represented an $89 investment.” Four years later, it’s taken over the Rio’s conference center with more than 5,000 attendees. Vendors offered products for every aspect of the business from seed to sale, be it self-contained grow operations in shipping-container-style boxes or a line of cannabis products designed to appeal to women, with floral packaging and cute sampler packs. Seminars ranged from examinations of energy use and pesticides to updates on legal developments, to discussions of new strains and products.

As with any new industry, there’s a lot to learn, for both purveyors and customers. “Education is a huge part of medical marijuana, no question,” says Inyo’s Goldwater, “and it’s a big part of what were trying to do in our business.”


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