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Economy & Business

Delayed Dispensaries Give Some St. Louis Cannabis Entrepreneurs A Chance To Catch Up

melanie marie
Corinne Ruff
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Melanie Marie Randels is the co-founder of the Canna Education Collective, which is opening a center in Dellwood this fall. Her goal is to make it easier for Black entrepreneurs to enter the state's burgeoning industry.

Zachery Post, owner of Elite Home Growers Academy, has been slammed with consultations to help people set up at-home marijuana grow stations. Since March, his small business has booked more than 15 appointments to help people set up tents, lighting and other equipment.

Zach post
Corinne Ruff
In March, Zachery Post hosted in-person workshops to show students how to germinate seeds and clone a marijuana plant by demonstrating on a house plant.

“We got one phone call to do a tent installation, and we took pictures and put it on social media — and next thing you know we’ve been busy ever since.”

Post credits the sudden uptick in business with the fact that marijuana dispensaries still haven’t opened after the state delayed approving cultivation sites. At the same time, he points out, people are stuck at home because of the pandemic.

Some local cannabis entrepreneurs, including Post, see it as an opportunity to catch up to big players driving the state’s burgeoning industry.

Usually, he spends most of his time teaching twice monthly now-virtual workshops on how to invest in the cannabis industry and grow the plant at home. But for now Post is leaning into the remote demand for his services.

“If it was not COVID-19 it would be another challenge that we would have to push through, so just treat COVID-19 like any other challenge, get through it and just keep it moving,” he said.

Grabbing an opportunity

Melanie Marie Randels is on a mission to make sure that Black people in particular are not just consumers of this new industry but business owners. With dispensaries delayed, she said it’s the perfect opportunity to educate her north St. Louis County community about how to cash in.

“There is a true medicinal side to this plant, and now a true business side that if we don’t position ourselves now within the industry we are going to miss out on the next rush,” she said.

Randels is the co-founder of the Canna Education Collective, which is opening a community-focused center in Dellwood this fall.

Melanie Marie
Corinne Ruff
Melanie Marie Randels, co-founder of the Canna Education Collective, points to where she sees opportunity for retail space in a soon-to-be-renovated Dellwood building. She plans to turn it into a center where people in the surrounding community can learn how to get involved in the cannabis industry.

The space, located in a Florissant Avenue strip mall, is still covered in bold purple paint from the last tenant, who ran a boutique. But after some renovations and a fresh coat of paint, Randles said it will turn into a cannabis “hub,” meant for anyone interested in learning more about it.

She said the center will offer information about how to become a caregiver, meaning growing marijuana plants on behalf of patients, as well as how to obtain a medical card.

Randels also envisions rooms for entrepreneurs to shoot promotional videos for their business, a retail space where they can sell products and classroom areas. She plans to host 12-week courses on how to grow cannabis, raise money and build a business.

Her goal is to make it easier for Black people to break into the predominantly white industry. Just 4% of licensed cannabis companies nationwide are African American owned and operated.

Randels said money is the biggest thing standing in the way — for her too. She’s still looking to lock in more investors to help finish the center.

“In order to break down the barriers of entry, we have to be able to position ourselves to have wealth. Not just a little cash, but wealth,” she said.

Randels is planning a soft opening of the center in October and a grand opening by the end of the year.

Need to pivot

The delay in opening dispensaries has changed how Brennan England envisions his business. He runs the state’s first consumption lounge — the Cola Lounge on Cherokee Street.

Brennan England
Corinne Ruff
Brennan England, owner of the Cola Lounge, pivoted his cannabis consumption lounge when the pandemic hit.

Before the pandemic, medical marijuana card holders could go there to play pool, take a painting class or discover products from local cannabis brands.

“With being social and connecting with people one of the biggest pieces of cannabis culture, we feel deprived right now. We feel really separated from that, and it's kind of sterilized a lot of our cannabis experiences,” England said.

He has closed the lounge temporarily, but one way he’s trying to keep the connection alive is through a subscription box program. Within the next month, customers can purchase monthly “stash boxes” filled with cannabis-related products —like smoking devices, topical treatments and England’s own line of CBD seltzers.

England said the success of his business is closely tied to dispensaries because the more access people have to cannabis, the more interested they may be in his lounge.

“It’s encouraged us to reach out to these brands that were ready for their jump off and might now be hurting,” he said, regarding brands’ CBD-based products and other merchandise. “We're giving them an outlet to still connect with customers.”

Down the street, a dispensary called Viola had planned to open this summer. Now the plan is to open the doors in the next three to six months.

Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnesusan

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