High Design

How a budtender-turned-designer reimagined marijuana retail for an Albuquerque dispensary
By
|
Posted September 15, 2014

In Colorado, newly minted dispensary owners are noticing a strange trend. Sure, there’s the expected influx of pot tourists and others curious about cannabis. They’ve also seen an uptick in health-seeking locals – people who qualified for medical cards, but were too afraid of unseen consequences to apply.

Paranoia about government tracking of medical marijuana card holders kept them away, explains Megan Stone, who founded The High Road Design Studio (Phoenix) to specialize in dispensary design. “People fear they’re going to be put on some government list. People fear they could lose their jobs, their health insurance. People fear that one day these lists could become public and they could risk arrest.”

Stone, first a dispensary patient, then a dispensary manager, launched The High Road Design Studio in 2013. And she’s capitalizing on budding demand for dispensaries that don’t feel like head shops.

Stone recently collaborated with entrepreneur Erik Briones to design the Minerva Canna Group dispensary in Albuquerque, N.M. From the outside, his 3100-square-foot dispensary is a fortress, complete with camera surveillance, wrought iron bars on every window (including upper-floor dormers), roll-down shutters for the storefront, motion detectors and glass breakage alarms on every window. “When we close that facility, it locks down like a vault,” Briones says. “You would literally need a blow torch to get into it.”

But inside, the goal was quite different: to alleviate shame and secrecy in an environment welcoming to those with medical marijuana cards. (New Mexico has yet to legalize marijuana for recreational use, though patients can grow their own product.)

For safety and privacy, a streetside door was converted to a long window, and the space was divided into separate spaces for a waiting room, dispensary, retail store and grow shop. Vinyl decals applied to glass doors add privacy, and careful choice of plant imagery (the marijuana plant, Stone says, “hasn’t always been executed in the most tasteful, professional or artistic ways”), raw metals and wood creates a wholesome, natural energy.

After 10 weeks of design and construction, the dispensary opened mid-April, just in time for 4/20. It now serves 150-200 patients per day, using Briones’ “never turn your back” style of customer service. To facilitate this, Stone customized glass-topped cases for the dispensary that allow patients to view samples of 15-20 of the dozens of strains that rotate through the business. As helpful as a trusted bartender, Minerva Canna Group’s budtenders provide one-on-one service, serving the average customer in a speedy 15 minutes.

Briones isn’t the first dispensary owner to unveil a high-end design, but he’s an early adopter of a customer-facing design in this industry. Unlike clinical models, which treat visits like doctor’s appointments, Briones welcomes those who just want to get in and get out. The medical model, he says, “works for the first visit or the first two visits. Then, the patients want to get the medicine and be on their way, and they want to have a pleasant experience while doing that.”

That means a restful waiting area, browsing spaces, like the Minerva Life retail store, accessible even to those without a medical marijuana card, and a keen eye for privacy.

It seems simple enough, but in this burgeoning industry, design is dictated by legislation that varies state-by-state and security concerns that vary by retailer (some accept only cash, for example; Briones takes credit card or cash). An efficient, relaxed, professional transaction is not yet the norm. “In the seven years that I’ve been in contact with the medical marijuana industry, I could count very few positive experiences I have had, and I’ve been in dozens if not hundreds of different dispensary retail locations,” Stone says.

Sounds like a challenge.

PROJECT SUPPLIERS
Retailer
Minerva Canna Group, Albuquerque, N.M.

Design
The High Road Design Studio, Phoenix

Signage/Graphics and Wallcoverings/Materials
D|Fab, Madison Heights, Mich.

Photography: Tien Frogget, Orange County, Calif.