Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
When your first job was at Spencer Gifts in the local mall, and you used to sell weed out back in between shifts, legitimately selling flower at a “cannabis showroom” in the same mall today feels full circle. That’s what one staffer at Joy Reserve, one of Westfield San Francisco Centre’s newest tenants, told 48 Hills.
Tucked between the J. Crew and Bloomingdale’s on the second floor of the mall, Joy Reserve isn’t a pot shop per se. There is no actual product at the location. Rather, it showcases weed and cannabis-related products via displays and promotional materials. Staffers are on hand to answer questions, and companies have representatives at demo stations. But it’s not just educational: There are QR codes on all materials should a customer wish to purchase something.
They won’t walk out of the store with anything, though. Scan the code, and it will be delivered right outside the mall in a safe location. Back-door weed dealing in the food court, this is not. And it’s not traditional cannabis retail, either. Is it legal? Completely, and it might just be the wave of the future.
RELATED: 5 Ways Cannabis Retailers Can Differentiate Themselves
A showroom vs. a store
Joy Reserve owner Vivian Vu told 48 Hills that the store is “providing education” to customers who might be too intimidated to walk into a dispensary. Think mom, daughter (legal age, of course), and grandma hitting the mall for some holiday shopping, curiously walking into this new store to see what all the hubbub is about. That’s what Vu is hoping for.
“As a ‘showroom’ and not a ‘dispensary,’ we wish to make cannabis accessible to all demographics by providing an experience that is both interactive and educational,” she told 48 Hills.
Regulations make it difficult for most cannabis retailers in states where recreational use is legal. It takes a lot of time, money, and effort — jumping through a lot of hoops and getting tangled up in red tape — to open a dispensary. Not to mention the imbalance of who gets the licenses and who doesn’t. Vu’s vision, a weed store without actual weed on premises, is a novel way to open up sales to a whole new audience.
Mall weed goes mainstream
Across the country cannabis retailers are taking over storefronts left empty by the pandemic exodus. Where they were once relegated to off-the-beaten-path locations or industrial wastelands, now you can buy weed, CBD gummies, and bongs at shopping centers, malls, and Main Street.
It’s not news that stores themselves are often highly designed, each having its own vibe. They’re glossy and chic; sometimes it’s luxury, sometimes a fun house, or akin to an art gallery or Apple store. These aren’t places that should be hidden. They deserve high-visibility locations. Hiding it only makes it seem like cannabis is illicit and illegal, which it is not — recreational use is now allowed in 19 states, plus Washington D.C. and Guam.
In Union City, California, Salinas-based Grupo Flor opened a shop in a former Sprint store. It’s discreet but stylish: Frosted glass windows, glass counters, marble tiles, a concierge at the door, iPad ordering kiosks. Orders come in bags that look like they could be from Tiffany’s.
“It’s not 22-year-olds buying a blunt and sitting stoned on the curb,” Bill Schrader, owner of the retail real estate company that leased the space to Grupo Flor, told NBC News. “When you go into dispensaries you’ll be shocked. The store is a cross between an Apple store and a Nordstrom. This is not a dispensary, in my opinion. It is retail.”
RELATED: The State That Sells the Most Weed May Surprise You
Here to stay
There are still detractors, both in communities and the government, that aren’t fully behind pot shops, especially in highly visible locations like the mall. The reasons usually cited: They’re not safe because it’s a cash-only business; they’re selling a drug that’s not legal at the federal level; and the innocent children of the community will get their hands on it.
That’s total bunk, says anyone involved in the state-regulated cannabis business, from retailers to customers.
“We don’t introduce cannabis to communities; cannabis is already in all communities,” said Gavin Kogan, CEO of Grupo Flor. “We introduce regulated, safe and taxed cannabis into communities.”
Whether it’s a showroom and delivery service like Joy Reserve, or a design-minded store next to Nordstrom, this is all just another step to making cannabis use — and retail — part of everyday life in every pocket of the country.