A new approach has brought solutions to customers and income to the state.
The signage is modest, and when a customer walks through the door they are greeted by an employee who asks for a photo ID. The store is quiet and the counter is tended by several sales clerks ready to answer questions. An array of products are displayed together with brochures describing them. There are no free samples and customers are not allowed to open a purchase on-site.
Welcome to Sweet Jane, now 2 years old, and the only marijuana dispensary on the Key Peninsula.
Owner Jennifer Strom said the business has grown organically. Although they had a person swinging a sign to advertise when they first opened, the county soon informed them that was not allowed. Strom said the business has largely grown by word of mouth.
“We opened with 10 products,” she said. “Now we have more than 50.” Most customers are local, largely from Longbranch to Gig Harbor North, though Strom notes that summer brings more “travelers.”
The dispensary offers products ranging in cost to accommodate customer wishes. They add products based on customer requests and information from industry trade shows. As with many expanding businesses, they start with a small order and if it sells well, they add it to the inventory. Decisions to continue a product are based on such things as price, quality, availability and customer service.
Sweet Jane is medically endorsed, as are 19 of the 29 marijuana dispensaries in Pierce County. Having a medical endorsement was a priority for Strom to meet the needs of the community. Currently there are just a handful of customers with medical marijuana authorization (allowing larger purchases without the 7.9 percent sales tax), but she also noted that a large number of people come to the store asking for advice on the best products to treat such things as sleep, pain, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
According to a review in the September AARP Bulletin magazine, the fastest growing group of marijuana users in the United States is older Americans. Cannabis use tripled in the age group 50 to 64 and grew tenfold in those over 65.
“The industry has evolved. Packaging labels describe benefits, so it’s easier to assist customers with particular requests,” Strom said. In addition, all products are highly regulated for quality to assure that the content of each product is accurate, unlike some CBD products available online.
One requirement for medical endorsement is having a medical marijuana consultant available at all times. Consultants must pass a program certified by the Department of Health. Although the other staff is experienced, the consultant adds a level of knowledge available to all customers, according to Strom.
Sales growth at Sweet Jane reflects that of the state. According to the website 502 Data, in 2014, when annual retail sales were first recorded, there was $31 million in retail sales. By 2017 retail sales grew to $927 million.
At Sweet Jane sales for their first month was just over $77,000. In August of this year sales topped $341,000, paying more than $126,000 in excise tax. The store has expanded hours to accommodate the growth and Strom plans a remodel to expand the retail space.
According to David Hutchinson, analyst for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department Crime Analysis Unit, a downward trend in marijuana-related offenses started in 2012 and has continued. Home thefts are down 46 percent over the last five years. He noted, however, that in looking at trends both in increases and decreases in crime, “Correlation does not equal causation.” But the data does at least show that marijuana legalization has not led to significant increases in crime, he said.
Strom said that they have not had any thefts. The store has a good security system and cameras are on at all times.