After Oklahoma speedily passed medical marijuana legislation and got the program up and running in record time, it seemed like the industry was too good to be true. With a small licensing fee for dispensaries, no qualifying conditions for medical cardholders, and a set of regulations put in place quickly, the Oklahoma marijuana industry was clearly taking a different approach than states that legalized medical marijuana before them. But so far, the Oklahoma marijuana industry isn’t showing any signs of distress. With a mix of mom-and-pop dispensaries and shops on their way to establishing state-wide chains, Oklahoma is proving to be a hot spot for the marijuana industry.
We can speculate all we want from the outside, but what’s it actually like in the Oklahoma marijuana industry? We talked with the CEO of the family-owned and operated Mary Jane Dispensary in Moore, Oklahoma, and asked him some questions to get a peak into what it’s really like starting, opening, and operating a medical marijuana dispensary in Oklahoma.
Questions with DC, CEO of Mary Jane Dispensary
What made you want to open a dispensary?
We started as a mom-and-pop, CBD-only store in October with a plan to transition to THC from the beginning. Many of our family members and close friends’ lives were destroyed by opiates and painkillers, so the opioid crisis really hits home for us; to be truthful, it makes me sick to my stomach.
I had been studying about CBD and its effects for about a year prior to starting Mary Jane Dispensary. That’s when we started developing our plan, knowing we had mountains to climb and only one way to get there.
How long did the licensing process take?
Starting from the beginning, the licensing process took us about one full month. I believe that Oklahoma has put a process in place that allows for a business to become licensed faster than any other medicinal state with fewer limitations and parameters.
Since we had a goal in mind, a plan to get there, and the drive to work two jobs to make it happen, we went to work. We were working on developing Mary Jane and within four months, we had become the first dispensary in Moore, a sub-city of Oklahoma City, located right within the heart of Central Oklahoma.
What was the licensing process like? Were there any road-blocks?
It was rather painless. 788 [Proposition 788] allowed for businesses to license very quickly with not a lot of obstacles, due to the language and current rules of 788. We do expect this to change as the industry evolves and as the Legislative session starts passing new rules.
There were a few scares along the way, such as the ban on smokable cannabis and the issue with $100,000 security bonds, but those were repealed quickly after our attorney general determined they violated the “will of the people” after being signed into law by the governor. The rules were then changed, from 75 pages down to 24 pages. This was the green light that many entrepreneurs and business owners alike were looking for, and we never looked back.
What sort of zoning restrictions are in place?
Well, for dispensaries it’s pretty clear cut. We can’t be within 1,000 ft of a school, as stated in 788. Along the way, however, restrictions have come up like forbidding dispensaries to be within 1,000 ft of a school, church, park or daycare; that’s been a popular restriction that many of the cities and even the OSDH, which is in control of the entire Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Association, have tried to implement.
The OSDH was unsuccessful, as that restriction was part of the original rules that were repealed. However, many cities have tried to implement the policy and have found themselves the subject of lawsuits from a prominent attorney out of Broken Arrow, Ron Durbin. Ron is well known for being the attorney that will stand up against any city that violates the intentions of 788 and he’s been very successful in doing so. Ron many times has fought entire cities – free of charge – and convinced many of them to repeal their policies against 788.
Was it difficult to find a spot for your storefront?
Yes, very much so. I would say it was the most difficult part of the process. We would find a place we thought to be perfect and as soon as cannabis was mentioned, it was “No” or “Absolutely not!”
We drove the streets, day and night, and called and were hung up on. We used every registry for real estate we could think of, and right before we were about to give up (we were headed to secure a storage facility to store the supplies we had acquired during the prep and planning process), we saw a sign for a little small storefront that just might be perfect.
Luckily, we arrived right when another facility next to ours was being shown. That’s where we met our landlord. We approached her as our last shot, so we just spilled the beans right from the beginning: “We are looking to open a medical cannabis dispensary.” Just as we expected, she was not impressed. After we learned that she was a cancer survivor, and she learned that we had a nurse on staff and that we truly believed we could and would help a lot of folks going through some of the same that she had gone through, she opened up to us. She said: “If cannabis would have been available when I was fighting for my life, I would have done it without any question”. We got a call back from her several days later that changed our lives and allowed us this opportunity, and for that call, we will forever be grateful.
What age group do most of your consumers fall into?
Well, you might be surprised to find out that the majority of our medical consumers are not the youngest demographic allowable by law, but rather they fall somewhere between 35-55. Although we have seen an uptick in the 55+ age group, which is really exciting to see!
Are you finding your consumers come in knowing what they want, or do they look to you or your employees for guidance?
It definitely depends on the person and their history with cannabis. We do have repeat medical consumers that have been using cannabis illegally for years. Many times they can educate you with the amount of research they have done and the passion they have for learning about cannabis and its effects.
A lot of the time, however, it is first-time medical consumers at our facility that come in saying: “I know nothing, I have a lot of questions. Please help me.” We go through anything and everything with them to make sure they have a clear understanding of the potential uses, effects, benefits, and risks of cannabis.
What products do you see most people buying?
We sell a majority of flower at our store mainly because it is what we started with. As we expand our operations, CBD sales have picked up as well. Cartridges are a big deal right now for the medical consumer, as we have seen lots of processing companies starting to compete for market share and put out some really nice, tested, quality products. We see medical consumers daily with a lot of interest in edibles right now as well, but primarily, quality flower is winning the race.
Would you say people generally consider medical marijuana legalization to be a positive thing for Oklahoma? What is the atmosphere of the Oklahoma marijuana industry like?
Absolutely, yes! I believe Oklahoma was a definite turning point for the marijuana industry as a whole, and is partially responsible for the increased discussion on national reform as well. We were the 48th state to legalize tattoos and are considered part of the “bible belt.” But even folks here that don’t participate [in marijuana consumption] are passionate about telling you that they voted for it.
The industry just needs more clarification and detail on the rules currently put in place with 788. We do not need lawmakers that initially voted against 788 simply trying to attach their names to bills that would make new rules for the industry. Many of these lawmakers know nothing about the industry, haven’t properly researched other state medical programs, and don’t even know what is lawful by the voter. This seems like it’s going to be a popular action by lawmakers in Oklahoma.
We will see many lawsuits come up against cities and legislators trying to gut 788. Several lawsuits have already been presented, such as SB325, which would allow counties to reverse 788 with 15% voter approval, and then allow a board (that was most likely against it in the first place) to make the final decision.
What do you think the future of adult use cannabis is in the state?
I think national reform will happen before recreational marijuana has the opportunity to try and make the ballot again. Here, SQ 796 was pretty darn close to receiving all the signatures needed to be put on the ballot and it’s possible it could have passed. Lawmakers should know that we [the industry] are all watching very closely and so is the voter at home, so don’t forget who put you there.
If they continue to push voters around on 788, they will inherently add fuel to the fire for a strong push for recreational, and lose out on a lot of patient fees, regulatory fees, etc. That being said, we still believe national reform will happen before another SQ796-like bill is needed. My fear is the lawmakers are going to waste a lot of resources, time and effort on over-regulating that could be spent on teachers’ pay or education reform -something truly important. And it’s going to be for nothing as soon as we remove marijuana from the list of schedule 1 substances nationally and as the banks open up for cannabis business.
What are you most excited about in the industry?
The opportunity to restore the lifestyles of people who are suffering from medical ailments that limit them from living full happy lives. The opportunity to help restore families, friendships and relationships through cannabis. And the opportunity to show that people that choose cannabis are not criminals, and low lives and potheads. Many of them are fully functioning, law-abiding, upstanding citizens within their community with kids, careers, plans and goals just like someone that has decided against cannabis. We are not a different breed of person and there is no reason to outcast anyone because of cannabis use.
What might you suggest to someone hoping to open a dispensary?
It’s not for the faint of heart, it’s not easy, and you can’t just focus on the end goal. The industry is changing daily, therefore you must stay on top of and remain compliant with all the changes.
Always have something that can motivate you, whether it’s that person the pushes you, a quote your rely on, or just setting interim goals. Work towards one of those goals per day and don’t count falling short a failure but rather a stepping stone to success just needing a little bit more work. Some days you will want to throw your hands up, feel overwhelmed, and want to quit and feel like you’re climbing a mountain with no summit in sight. Days like this, I turn to these words:
Falling short or feeling like you’re “failing” is okay. It’s actually part of the process of the journey to success; as long as when you get up from that fall or setback, you’re ready to take two steps forward…. And if you’re willing to do that, you’re always gaining.
Mary Jane Dispensary’s Mission
Our mission is to provide quality medicine at an affordable price. In order to do that, we created a suite of discounts that many of our consumers qualify for, such as 10 percent off for disabled individuals, military, teachers, and seniors. We also vowed to our consumers that we would never be over $15/gram and have worked towards hitting a $10/g price-point for medicinal cannabis. Many consumers were once on insurance for most of their medication needs. For a great number of them, insurance really helped absorb much of the impact from those medication expenses. Now we are seeing many medical consumers that are leaving pharmaceuticals behind or that have set goals to significantly reduce the intake of those pharmaceuticals, so that’s where we have an opportunity to provide great value to the medical consumer if we approach the market the right way.
Mary Jane Dispensary
2990 SE 19th St, STE 1
Moore, OK 73160
Major Cross Street: SE 19th & Sunnylane
Monday-Saturday (9am – 7pm)