I’m a husband, dad, and cannabis professional. Here’s what having a corner-store dispensary in your town might be like

Published in Issue 173 of New Jersey Cannabis Insider on 7/15/21

(((Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.)))

Alexa, alarm off!

It’s 8 a.m Saturday and I’m already brushing my teeth since the kids woke me up 30 minutes ago.

While I spend my 3.5 minutes of morning personal time browsing Instagram stories, I see a weekly special pop up for my local cannabis dispensary, Jerseytown Greens. Perfect! I’ll add a stop on today’s errands list before my son’s baseball game and daughter’s Girl Scout troop meeting.

At 9:15, I’m on my way to my first stop, Costco, to pick up groceries and a box of that Pinot the wife and I love. Hmm…you know what, the mother-in-law’s coming over tomorrow…let’s make it two boxes.

Next on the list is the independent pharmacy on Main Street, which has been in town for decades. I love going there because they know me by name and always have the best gift ideas for my wife. As I pick up my mother-in-law’s prescription sleep medication, the pharmacist Maria shows me a new line of OTC dietary supplements that boosts energy and metabolism. I’m in! (Even though I know the FDA doesn’t review these products for safety or efficacy.)

My last stop is Jerseytown Greens, conveniently located a few walkable blocks away from Main Street. I’m thrilled they’re not on the outskirts of town, but far away enough from the local Kumon and Jerseytown Ice Cream shop (both which happen to be directly across the street from the town’s liquor store and smoke shop).

As I walk up to the dispensary, I’m warmly greeted by my favorite armed security guard, Darren. He’s a retired police sergeant that served the community for 25-plus years before realizing retirement at 51 wasn’t quite what he expected it to be. We chat briefly about Kevin Durant’s shoe size, and if our Giants will break 500 this season. While entering the dispensary, I’m reminded of a time when the building was a local bank branch before its doors were shuttered a few years back. Ironically, the bank didn’t have any Darren’s on site while it was operational!

Inside the dispensary, I say hello to Tyler, a neighborhood kid from down the street. Tyler finished his bachelor’s degree at a leading state university last year while working full time at the dispensary. He recently got accepted to the University of Maryland’s Masters in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics Program and is excited to begin in the fall. He’s gaining practical working experience while pursuing an advanced degree for the future. Tyler previously worked at an Amazon warehouse, but realized the pay at Jerseytown Greens was comparable in addition to benefits and protections of a unionized work force.

The owner of the dispensary, Alex, comes over to say hello. Our girls are in the same Girl Scout troop. He talks about the newest lab-tested products that are on sale this week.

For my insomnia, he recommends a 2:1 THC:CBD lavender tincture that others have found useful for sleep. I’m in! (Even though I know the FDA classifies cannabis as a Schedule I substance with no medical value.)

As a fun gift for the wife, he recommends a beautifully packaged (and child-resistant) dark chocolate bar available to be separated and micro-dosed into small portions. As I get rung up for my tincture bottle and chocolate bar, my mother-in-law pops back into my head.

You know what Tyler…. let’s make it two of each.

As Alex walks me out, he shows me the consumption area that was just completed inside the dispensary.

I was half expecting a bar counter surrounded by stools and lounge chairs, but instead I’m greeted with an open space featuring floor-to-ceiling glass walls and an industrial-sized ventilation system. On the inside, an employee is teaching customers how to predict the effects of their cannabis sessions based on sight and smell of their products while simultaneously sampling small portions. I take a quick peek at the calendar of upcoming group activities being offered:

Alex speaks excitedly about these services for the community and also extends an offer for our girls to set up a table outside of the dispensary during cookie-selling season. As we say our final goodbyes, he asks me about our town’s baseball team. I let him know the booster club is looking for sponsors and he chuckles.

He says to me, “It might be a little bit longer before the town would be comfortable seeing our name on a giant banner hanging in the outfield, but how about we start with a page in the yearbook?”

I’m home by 11:45 a.m., ready to take on the rest of the day.

And that my friends, is a glimpse of what life might be like with a cannabis dispensary in the neighborhood.

As a professional and former employee of a New Jersey dispensary, I’m compelled to share this mostly fictional depiction into what my private life could look like in a few short years. Municipal leaders, the “canna-curious,” and even groups stuck in the Reefer Madness era of the 1950s need to be given a clear picture of day-to-day life with cannabis in their backyard.

The unknowns of “what will cannabis look like in my community?” can instead be filled with conversations about this burgeoning industry providing over 321,000 jobs across the nation offering advanced career paths in the fields of horticulture, chemistry, medicine, engineering, law, and IT.

The hesitations about the debunked gateway drug theory and negative impact on youth can be confidently greeted by clinical and data-driven studies. The highlight reel can instead shine on social justice programs focused on ensuring black and brown minorities imprisoned for the failed war on drugs will be released, reunited with their families, and reintegrated into society for a brand new opportunity to build generational wealth.

Looking at states like Illinois that established their legalized cannabis market over a year ago, the sky hasn’t fallen. In fact, the sky has a slight hue of green with tax revenues exceeding $205 million in their first year of legal adult-use cannabis sales. The possibilities are just beginning.

I spent almost a decade of my professional career working as a registered pharmacist in the same Main Street pharmacy setting as the depiction above. I recognized that healthcare, service, and customer bonds extend beyond the four walls of the pharmacy and directly into the homes and hearts of the community.

To future cannabis retail operators: I implore you to fully immerse yourselves in humbly serving the communities that welcome you with a letter of support.

To the public: I ask you to simply give us a chance. Give us a fighting chance to develop robust roots within your community. Give us a chance to cultivate meaningful and productive relationships with your towns. Most importantly, give us a chance to celebrate the harvests and fruits of our labor together, as if we were any other small business operator coming to town like a second-generation Main Street pharmacy.

That’s how I imagine things will be. I hope you’ll share this with a friend, a neighbor, or even a local council member. Let’s move on from the stigmatization of what cannabis is perceived to be and create a world of what we want cannabis to become.

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