DENVER — I had to get over the feeling that I was doing something wrong.
The building was seedy. My destination was on the fifth floor of an otherwise vacant low-rise. I had to knock to enter, and a solid wood door was closed and locked behind me. I had entered what is said to be one of the best-rated marijuana dispensaries in Denver.
Pot pipes and paraphernalia were on display in a small anteroom. Beyond were two doors: one (closed and locked) that hid a medical-marijuana facility available only to those armed with a valid registry card; and a second (open to the public) that led to a small, maybe 400-square-foot space where the primary business of recreational marijuana was conducted. It smelled of ... well, you know.
This was one of the experiences I shared with convenience-store retailers during CSP’s CBD and the Future of Cannabis Conference, held in April. About 75 c-store retailers and CBD experts and suppliers gathered to talk through the actions bringing this new product category to market.
At this dispensary—one of six we visited—I perused a variety of marijuana products in a space that, with its glass display cases, resembled a cross between a head shop and a jewelry store.
I sniffed the “strain of the day,” but this shop was not just about marijuana flower to be smoked. It was stocked with vape juices, patches, edibles (chocolates, taffy, gummies, colas, juices) and more, all infused with various levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the high-inducing ingredient in marijuana.
The guy in front of me knew exactly what he wanted: A vape cartridge that he found provided a pleasant diversion from the everyday (cost: $35). He paid with a $100 bill and was out the door in less than five minutes.
As a mere spectator, I wasn’t an ideal customer, but the staff of this dispensary was so polite and so welcoming (even as they asked for ID—twice), it was impossible not to be charmed by the visit.
Our channel isn’t the only one chasing that brass CBD ring.
One surprise from our dispensary tours: These shops do not sell products with cannabidiol (CBD), a chemical in cannabis and hemp that is regarded by some for medicinal attributes. They can’t.
“It’s got to be cannabis” to be sold in a dispensary, one store owner told me. That means no coffee, no bottled water—and no Visine for these outlets.
Also, the six dispensaries we visited weren’t all seedy. Some strived for an Apple Store-like ambiance and aesthetic.
Hope or Hype?
As an industry, we can cross dispensaries off the list of retail channels c-stores will battle in the fight to own CBD—in Colorado, at least. Still, that leaves drugstores, e-commerce, boutique shops, natural grocers and more to contend with.
Some conference attendees had already taken the plunge into selling CBDs; others were watching from afar. We’ll have full coverage of our CBD forum in the July issue of CSP magazine. But our May cover story takes a close look at the new ... category (Ingredient? Fad?) to let retailers know where CBD stands, what the opportunity is and why it might be better to wait—or not.
One significant discussion point during our forum centered on what best to call this new product entry. Do enough consumers understand what CBD means?
On the other hand, most retailers in our audience balked at the idea of referring to the products as “hemp.” The association with marijuana is just too close, the thinking went. And the last thing c-stores need is the allusion that they will smell of skunk weed and patchouli.
So is CBD the next big thing in c-stores? Maybe. But know that our channel isn’t the only one chasing that brass CBD ring, and the path toward grabbing it won’t be a smooth one.
Steve Holtz is content director of Winsight’s Convenience Group. Reach him at email@example.com.