The Burgeoning Medical marijuana industry, in which potential customers are required to have a state-issued license to enter a dispensary and make a purchase, has given our city’s most adept marketing minds their latest challenge: How can Las Vegas top the methods that have already been tested in other states that permit medical marijuana? With an aesthetic that combines the vibe of an Apple Store and the design of a high-end jewelry store, Essence Cannabis Dispensary’s ambience is warm and inviting without being overly clinical or, on the other hand, dark, dingy and foreboding.
Essence (EssenceVegas.com) won the golden ticket of being the only business of this type that was granted permission to operate on Las Vegas Boulevard, and it recently celebrated its grand opening. The company now has two additional locations across Las Vegas and an impressive 54,000-square-foot cultivation facility in a warehouse behind Mandalay Bay. In grower circles, theirs is reputed as state-of-the art, with a computerized system that fully automates and controls fertilization, irrigation, temperature and humidity.
The woman at the helm of raising awareness and educating the community about Essence is Jenn Schacht, an eight-year veteran of Las Vegas hospitality, primarily working in nightlife with the Light Group, Hakkasan Group and Clique Hospitality Group. “I have learned from the best of the best about networking, relationships and how the industry operates: casino marketing events, hotel grand openings, hiring and training staff, festival management and hosting extravagant weekend itineraries—I’ve done it all.”
Schacht got her start as a cocktail server at Bare Pool Lounge at The Mirage and made her way up the ranks, eventually landing in customer development, which she will be doing at Essence, imbuing hospitality into a medical industry to provide an unprecedented level of customer service. “My focus is on educating and creating awareness about the products and brand,” she says.
She is excited to take the formula she honed in nightlife and apply it at the ground level. A bonus: Nevada is the only state that currently accepts all out-of-state licenses.
“We are providing a medical service, and we’re putting a tried-and-true model on it in terms of VIP customer development,” she says. “[It’s a] formula that has worked in Vegas across many different industries.” Under Schacht’s direction, Essence dispensaries will provide patients with seamless access, whether they are hotel guests or traveling.
“I will be working with VIPs who are coming to town. If they’re here for just a weekend getaway and need medical product,” she says, “we are making sure the hospitality industry is aware of accessibility and how to get it legally. We have a full-time registered nurse available for one-on-one consultations with patients. In my research of various companies, nobody came close to this level, so my choice was easy.”
A gatekeeper of information—as opposed to a guardian of the red rope—Schacht points out that she doesn’t touch product nor does she deal with any financial transactions in this role, but she does provide stats and facts.
Part of the education process is creating an open dialogue around something that has carried a bad rap. Schacht draws a parallel with renowned television personality Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who was against medical marijuana when CNN asked him to work on three special programs and whose view changed after seeing the results.
“When you see the amazing impact of medical cannabis on these patients, many of whom had given up hope for a better life, how can you not be excited about this?
“The stigma is changing rapidly as more people realize that cannabis is a real medical solution to real medical problems,” she says. There is legislation in process to transition medical marijuana to recreational use, following the lead of Washington and Colorado, but extreme sensitivity to this issue remains around gaming and corporate entities.
“The reality is that people do ask, and people do want to use these [products],” she says. “People ask to go to a strip club and ask for helicopter rides; they may also ask for access to medical marijuana dispensaries if they already have a card.”
A Word About Drug Testing and Medical Marijuana
Medical marijuana may be increasingly in the spotlight, but it’s still surrounded by gray areas. Can people with prescriptions for medical marijuana still lose custody of their children? Can they be thrown out of their homes? Can they be fired from their jobs?
That last one has already been the subject of numerous court cases. The Americans With Disabilities Act protects people who are taking medication for a disability—so if your employer finds out you’re jacked full of OxyContin, it’s OK as long as you have a prescription. But if you’re using medical marijuana, you may find yourself at the unemployment office, even if you have a doctor’s note.
Why? Well, because the ADA is a federal law and, according to federal law, marijuana is illegal. A California Supreme Court ruling in 2008 declared that employees can be fired for off-duty use that does not impact their work, arguing that a card protects holders from police prosecution, but not employer discrimination.
Even in states where recreational use is legal and the employee has a prescription, they can still lose their jobs. In a 2015 Colorado Supreme Court case, a quadriplegic customer service representative was fired by Dish Network for having THC in his system. He challenged the ruling on the basis that he had a doctor’s prescription for medical marijuana and, thus, could not be terminated for lawful activities outside of work. Dish countered that, while Colorado state law has legalized marijuana, federal law has not. The Colorado court agreed with Dish, seemingly invalidating its own state laws.
Thus far, regardless of circumstance or legal argument, states have ruled in favor of an employer’s right to fire over medical marijuana use every single time the issue has been raised. It is a situation that will likely not change until cannabis’ legality is readdressed at the federal level. –Lissa Townsend Rodgers