Local Dispensaries Overwhelmed by Adult Use Sales

Long waits, new faces, and other updates from San Francisco’s first days selling recreational cannabis.

On Jan. 6, anyone old enough to drink alcohol in the city of San Francisco was also old enough to head to a handful of recently licensed dispensaries and buy some marijuana.

As California hustles to process applications for state licenses (all dispensaries hoping to engage in adult use sales must have both city and state approval), seven local dispensaries managed to snag paperwork to be among the first to offer marijuana to non-medical patients. Among them were Harvest on Geary, Grass Roots, and Releaf Herbal Cooperative.

According to Eliot Dobris, head of marketing and communication for Apothecarium, they only learned their flagship store in the Castro had received its recreational permit from the state at 5 p.m. the day before sales officially started.

“It was a real scramble to get everything ready,” he says, “but it was also really exciting. We saw a big turnout.”

Indeed, as one of just 16 medical cannabis dispensaries in San Francisco currently licensed to sell adult use, long waits and lines out the door have become common sights.

“Waits have been a real thing,” Dobris confirms, although he adds that as the initial rush begins to subside, he expects the long lines to shorten.

Part of the initial delay is due to the fact that while recreational customers are only required to show a state-issued ID to make purchases, each dispensary requires an initial registration. Once registered, many new customers need time to speak with budtenders and learn how a dispensary actually works.

“Our typical recreational customer is someone who is experienced with marijuana, but not very experienced with a dispensary,” he says. “Most of them have used marijuana before but have never been inside a dispensary. So there are a lot of new faces and a lot of explaining and helping people understand how a dispensary works.”

Kevin Reed, founder and president of The Green Cross on Mission, echoes Dobris in noting the sheer volume of new customers waiting for a chance to patronize his business.

“With adult use cannabis being legalized in California, there are masses of people from all walks of life coming into The Green Cross storefront daily,” says Reed. “It astonishes me that so many have waited on the sidelines while medical cannabis has been so simple to obtain for the last 21 years.”

Other dispensaries seem completely overwhelmed by the new traffic.

A phone call to Grass Roots on Post will lead you to a lengthy recorded message explaining the basic details of adult use before a staff member can be reached, in an effort to cut down on questions. Meanwhile a staff member at Releaf Herbal explained that their owner was currently denying all press requests “until things calmed down in a week or two.” (Good luck with that.)

Among the dispensaries to secure a license in the days following the Jan. 6 start day for recreational sales in San Francisco, the Mission’s high-end Barbary Coast has also enjoyed a surge of new customers.

“While it’s been busy and we’ve had lines consistently inside the shop, we haven’t had the long lines down the block,” says Barbary Coast Executive Director Jesse Henry. “The wait is generally about five minutes tops. It’s been a really positive experience for everyone.”

Suddenly, a huge opportunity has arisen for creative marketing to entice those still resistant to the idea. The Apothecarium is wasting no time. At a press conference on Tuesday, the dispensary’s SoMa branch announced a week’s worth of special offers aimed at getting professionals to shake off the stigma, and come see what the fuss is all about. On Jan. 22, anyone who brings their CEO with them will get 20-percent off, while a similar discount is being made available on select days throughout the week for other professions like lawyers, engineers, and architects.

As business continues to boom, Apothecarium and Green Cross both confirmed they are looking to add to their staffs to meet demand.

“Our hiring signs are back up,” Reed of Green Cross says.

“The staff has been amazing,” Dobris of Apothecarium adds. “They’re working really hard, putting in extra hours, making sure we can serve as many people as possible.”

What comes next is hard to say. Conversations on taxes, and the pairing of cannabis enterprises with other local institutions are both certainly areas of interest — Sparc recently became the official cannabis partner of comedy festival Sketchfest. But for now, however, the focus is clear: welcoming new faces to a rapidly expanding family.

Zack Ruskin covers news, culture, and music  for SF Weekly.
feedback@sfweekly.com |  @zackruskin

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