Cannabis Issue: Dense greenery

More than a year after cannabis became legal to sell to licensed patients, dispensaries are so plentiful that many are neighbors.

click to enlarge Cannabis Issue: Dense greenery
Phillip Danner

Northward of 2,200 dispensaries are licensed in the state as of January, along with 235,000 active patient licenses, according to the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority. This means that if every licensed dispensary had opened their doors for business and were getting an even share of the available market, they would be servicing roughly 105 patients each.

While some dispensaries have already closed, new locations open and patient numbers have slowed; nowhere will that competition be fiercer than in areas of intense dispensary density.

The Oklahoma City metro has become so thick with dispensaries that some are neighbors. In one Automobile Alley building downtown, there are three dispensaries: Herbology to the north and 46 Releaf to the south, with Highland Healing above Cultivar Mexican Kitchen between them.

Another dense area in northwest Oklahoma City is May Avenue, north of NW 63rd Street.

The first shop on the block to open was Steve’s Greens Cannabis + Wellness, which previously operated as a CBD store. Stephanie and Dustin Mathis opened the dispensary next door to SB Body Arts, which they had owned and operated for years before entering the cannabis space.

“We chose that location for our tattoo shop because 63rd on May is one of those intersections that, typically in my mind, if I dread going there on a Christmas weekend because of the traffic, then that’s where I want my business to be because that’s where the people are,” Stephanie Mathis said.

When Steve’s Greens Wellness + Cannabis opened as a CBD store, May Avenue was already a hotspot.

“There was definitely about five CBD stores that opened up between May and [NW] 122nd that had me kind of like, ‘Okay, this is getting a little crazy on the saturation.’ … We were definitely the first licensed dispensary between [NW] 63rd [Street] and Wilshire [Boulevard],” she said.

It did not take long for her block to start filling in. The CBD Plus USA store just to the south began carrying Lotus Gold products in the spring.

“It took them a little bit longer too because we started slinging in November of 2018 because there was that boom where it was late October. … We held off until the math actually made sense for us to have Oklahoma products in our store, trying to do everything legit and not bringing in out-of-state products,” Mathis said. “We made our short little menu of like four or five strains, which at the time we were so excited about, and so we started out with the flower. It was from New Leaf [Medicinals], and then we had Simple Cure vape carts and Mr. Mack’s edibles, and those are the three products that we started with right off the bat in November.”

Corbin Wyatt, founder of The Peak, had scouted the location for its “Craft Dispensary” across the street from Steve’s Greens. The location is now operating under his new brand, Likewise. 

“We had seen Stem was building a building, but apart from that, there was No Rhyme or Reason at the end of it and we thought, ‘All right. There’s three stores on this busy street. Not really a big deal,’” Wyatt said. “I think that our impression of Steve’s Greens is that they focused more on the CBD side and they were doing some massage and things like that, so I think we saw them as more of a different type of competitor than we saw in like a Stem-type store. We didn’t really think too much about that. We just really liked the building and we liked the ability to have a drive-thru, which really does differentiate us. Business has been good. Interestingly enough, it’s directly the opposite of street traffic. When street traffic is low, we’ve got traffic. When street traffic is high, it’s slower times.”

No Rhyme or Reason has since gone out of business, and Steve’s Greens has been put out of commission for at least a year while the building is rebuilt after an arsonist torched the building, destroying both the dispensary and SB Body Arts. Blue Wolf Cannabis Dispensary opened and closed its doors within about a month, Mathis said.

Stem is still operating on the west side of May Avenue, as are Lotus Gold, NewLeaf Cannabis & Clone Co. and The Green Room Cannabis Company, and Cure Oklahoma is opening soon. The newest kid on the block for now is Tegridy Market, which bookends the mile just across Wilshire Boulevard behind the 7-Eleven.

Owner Tom Spanier has 30 years in wholesale supply and distribution.

“On my first dispensary visit, it just became very obvious to me. I knew immediately that I wanted to open a dispensary, and I spent the rest of that Saturday just hitting one shop after another after another. The more I hit, the more I knew I was going to do it,” Spanier said. “We went around and we hit probably 10, and things weren’t nearly as mature then, so it was a lot worse. But then again, it took us from February until virtually December 1st to get open, so it took us a lot of time to do it the way we thought was the right way to do it. …  It’s really in the center of the city. We’ve known since June we’re gonna go 24 hours, and by having that central location, we just thought it would be appealing to everybody because we’re 20 minutes from every suburb. Our number one priority is flower. Flower is the great separator, in my opinion. It’s been a combination of happy accidents and luck and good fortune.”

Tyler Doolittle’s family began opening Fire Leaf dispensaries in late 2018. There is a location on N. May Avenue near Britton Road and also one on S. Western Avenue.

“I would say there are two leading factors to those two particular areas turning into ‘the green miles.’ One contributing factor is rental space availability. At the time
that this thing was taking off a year or
so ago, those two areas had the most
available spaces in a somewhat densely
populated area … And then once there was
a large amount, then competition said,
‘Well, I’ve got to be in that area’ and
now it’s turned into ‘the green miles.'”
— Tyler Doolittle

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South Oklahoma City has also become increasingly packed with storefronts jockeying for the coveted position of becoming the patient’s regular dispensary, and nowhere is that more apparent than on S. Western Avenue on both sides of Interstate 240.

Fire Leaf opened stores on S. Western Avenue and at Reno Avenue and Council Road on the same day. Doolittle said it was the first dispensary on S. Western Avenue.

“At that time, the only competition that we had was the CBD Plus that was a mile to the east, and at that time, that was the only store that was there. There was nothing on Western. And then right when we started building, Green Plus popped up, and once we opened, it was an onslaught of a million people,” he said. “We anticipated doing more business, but come to find out, the Reno location did just as good, and I attribute that to us just being one of the first people being open. We could have opened, I believe, just about anywhere in that time and kind of blown up because there was a lack of places and a huge amount of patients and a huge amount of people interested in the industry.”

Patient drives held at the location on S. Western Avenue brought hundreds hoping to get a recommendation that was paid for by offering four $25 gift certificates for future visits to the dispensary, which kept the store packed with patients for months.

“It went down a little bit during the summertime, and it’s kind of picked back up since it’s gotten a little chillier, but I think that’s just any business. Bars are very similar. People are outside in the summer, doing stuff, but we have picked back up actually there at Western. We’re about to open up our second side. We rented a space next to us, and we’re doubling in size there, so if that’s any indication, we’re still doing okay,” Doolittle said.

Buddy Green’s Cannabis Co. opened just south of Fire Leaf on Western Avenue in late March.

“We’ve got close to 20 in a 2-mile stretch. When we first got there, I said, ‘This is like the green mile. We put it on our T-shirts that we had printed up for our grand opening. I’ve even seen a dispensary called The Green Mile since then,” owner Dan Thatcher said.

Buddy Green’s Cannabis Co. started last spring after some potential investors got spooked about the proposed changes from the state health department when State Question 788 passed at the polls.

“So we just started small and just went with the one dispensary because we were actually looking at a big grow before we ever went into the dispensary,” Thatcher said. “And the dispensary, actually that location just came available and it was someone we knew, a friendly landlord. We go, ‘Let’s just go ahead and take this spot.’ I was looking at two other spots I did prefer. I liked the 7-Eleven location where Green Doctor [420] is, and I was also looking at [SW] 104th and [Pennsylvania Avenue].”

Thatcher said one of the ways the dispensary has set itself apart is by decorating a Bradford pear tree with green lights on the south side of the building where it is harder to see the sign from the road.

“You go by there at night and it’s green all the way up to the top of the building. We’ve got all the branches just tightly wound, lots of lights on it. We spent about $500 on the lights for that, so people really notice it,” Thatcher said.

Distinguishing yourself from the two dozen or so dispensaries in the surrounding mile has been difficult.

“We’re trying to do it with the quality of our buds. That’s really the big thing for us since the beginning. We’ve tried to have a little better, higher quality than anybody else on the row, and I feel like we’re pretty good at that so far,” Thatcher said. “I like the denser buds. I like to see a nice trim. I want something that’s got some smell and flavor and some kick to it. I’ve been smoking weed for 50 years, so I’ve gone through all kinds of stuff.”

Competition that has gone the direction of cheaper prices for less quality has also created a market for cheaper product.

“It’s really tough because of the proximity of all the stores, and then you got these people that came out with really low prices,” Thatcher said. “People come in and go, ‘Hey, I get a $99 or a $150 ounce.’ I go, ‘Yeah, but you get what you pay for.’ So what I’ve done is tried to make my house shelf a little bigger, a little fuller, put in some more low-price options there.”

Oklahoma City can expect to see more cannabis on the corners before they see less of it, and with State Question 807 potentially on the ballot this fall, there is no telling where the market will go as the industry matures.

click to enlarge Cannabis Issue: Dense greenery
Phillip Danner