Green wave: Cannabis industry blooming in South Lake Tahoe
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — It’s been over a year since the city of South Lake Tahoe approved recreational cannabis permits and despite the pandemic, the industry has been blooming.
Heather Stroud, City Attorney said the city has a revenue goal of $552,000 for the year.
“We are on track to meet expectations for cannabis revenue for Fiscal Year 20-21,” Stroud said.
Four dispensaries have been selling recreational marijuana — Tahoe Wellness, Tahoe Green, Embarc Tahoe and Cannablue.
Tahoe Wellness has been selling medical marijuana since 2009, which was legalized by California in 1996. So, when it received a recreational license, they quickly adapted.
Tahoe Wellness executive director Cody Bass said sales improved greatly after they were able to sell for recreational use.
“Mainly because of Tahoe being such a tourist town and tourist economy and being able to be open to our entire economy, rather than just qualified patients, changed our sales dramatically,” Bass said.
He said he is happy to see people have more access to cannabis and sees the other dispensaries as a rising tide that raises all ships rather than competition.
“The more access and the more open it is to society as a whole, the better it is for everyone,” Bass said. “My true opinion around cannabis is that it gives a great alternative to pharmaceuticals, to alcohol, it becomes an alternative to much worse things for a lot of people.”
The store is currently under construction. They are refacing the front of the building and expanding into what used to be the El Dorado Savings Bank, which will allow double the capacity.
However, Bass said it’s important to note that they still serve medical patients since medically prescribed cannabis comes in much higher doses than what is allowed to be sold recreationally.
Embarc Tahoe opened its door in June 2020, at the height of the pandemic.
Owner Christy Wilson said even though hiring and capacity were issues during the pandemic, guests expressed appreciation for precautions the dispensary took to keep people safe.
They’ve also opened locations in Martinez and Alameda but Wilson said it’s too soon to compare the different markets. However, she did say in Tahoe, they sell a lot of smaller package items or disposables to visitors who just need the product for their trip but can’t bring it home with them.
“One thing that has surprised me is how broad the customer base is,” Wilson said. “From locals to visitors, from old to young, it runs the whole gambit.”
Wilson is very pleased with the community support they’ve received and the support they’ve been able to give back to the community.
In December, they donated $50,000 to the Boys and Girls Club’s new building and this summer they are hoping to help support education camps in the community.
They also helped rebrand the Tahoe Alliance for Safe Kids, an organization that helps combat youth substance abuse.
Finally, the staff has helped deliver food with Bread and Broth and Wilson said she will continue looking for paid volunteer opportunities for the staff.
Tahoe Green opened its doors in September and the store’s general manager, Kaitlyn Kolvoord, said so far it’s been, “pretty wonderful.”
They started off strong but saw a dip in January when the second lock down went into place. However, they recovered in February with one of their best months yet.
“We saw a lot of ski traffic, a lot of people coming in off the mountain looking for pain relief, relaxation and sleep aids,” Kolvoord said.
Kolvoord worked in the cannabis industry in Colorado for many years before joining Tahoe Green owners, Dave and Melaine Turner.
She said California is in the “honeymoon phase,” of recreational marijuana and is making similar mistakes to ones Colorado made in the beginning. The biggest one being lack of dialogue between state regulatory boards and the dispensaries.
Kolvoord said she’s grateful the city limited the number of permits while the market is still getting up and running.
“In the short term, I see a lot of growth potential for stores,” Kolvoord said, adding that the dispensaries will each continue to diversify themselves as they get more acquainted with the market.
She also said the South Lake Tahoe Police Department has been great in helping with enforcement and Tahoe Green is excited to help educate youth in the communities about the dangers of underage cannabis consumption.
“We are working with the city to make sure this is a positive industry for the community,” Kolvoord said.
Tahoe Green staff are excited to give back to the community this summer with beach and trail clean ups.
South Lake’s newest dispensary, Cannablue, opened in December 2020.
With the help of Canna Advisors, local Alex Gosselin, aka Goose, opened a dispensary that encompasses the Tahoe spirit.
Tyler Stratford owner of Tyler Stratford Cannabis Consultants and Sumer Thomas, Senior Project Manager at Canna Advisors were instrumental in helping Goose get his business up and running.
Stratford, who has worked in many cannabis markets around the country and world said South Lake Tahoe’s market is unique.
The customer base is largely made up of people who are trying to get out of the cities, like San Francisco and Sacramento and people who are trying to get out of their houses and enjoy nature.
“It translates to the kind of cannabis they’re consuming,” Stratford said. “A lot of on the go stuff, a lot of prepackaged, a lot of pre-rolled and a lot of micro doses as well and a lot of things that are focused less on getting high, the THC side of things and focusing on the overall life enrichment and wellness that cannabis offers.”
He said they are selling products that help people sleep or smaller doses of products that can help with pain management and recovery during exercise.
Thomas also added that another thing that makes this market unique is this extensive permitting process they had to go through with the city. She said there were about 20-30 applicants who applied at the same time as them, so the permits are “exclusive.”
Additionally, Thomas said that between Goose being a local, the location of the dispensary being in a more local area and COVID restricting tourism, they’ve been able to nail down the community aspect of the business.
“He’s been really focused, not so much as customer acquisition but customer retention and that’s really that local market,” Stratford added.
They are about to launch their “Puff, puff, season pass,” which is available only to locals that allows for discounts, points towards future purchases and entry into seasonal raffles.
Cannablue has also been using a portion of the proceeds to give back to local charities.
So far, the city has not seen any major enforcement issues with the industry.
Detective John Spaeth is the Cannabis Control Officer for SLTPD. He is responsible for facilitating compliance of licensed cannabis businesses with the city ordinance allowing cannabis sales, manufacturing, and cultivation in South Lake Tahoe and the enforcement of illegal cannabis activities within the city.
“All four of the currently licensed and operating cannabis retail locations are in compliance with the city ordinance and have been responsive to any issues that need to be addressed,” Spaeth said.
Spaeth said he can track crimes such as minors in possession, possession for illegal sales, illegal cultivation, etc. But added its too soon to determine if there are any trends in those kinds of crimes, plus the pandemic has made the last year unique so Spaeth said he, “would hesitate to draw inferences or conclusions from that limited and unique data set.”
All four dispensaries see more and more growth for the future of the industry. As it becomes more mainstream and widely accepted, the customer base will grow.
Federal legalization has been part of the national conversation lately. Bass believes that will eventually become reality and sees that as a good thing.
“When that happens, that’s going to be such a massive shift for our industry,” Bass said. “It’s going to change a lot in a lot of good ways. I mean, there’s not another homegrown industry in America that has this kind of economic impact. I’m excited for the future.”
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