Dispensaries have Instagram profiles, while growers and dealers feel more open to speak about their experiences. Lucia Starbuck talked to workers in the cannabis industry about the ins and outs of a dispensary and working around federal laws which remain prohibitive.

“As you walk in, you see this beautiful greenhouse which is different,” said Dillon Secklin of the SoL Cannabis dispensary where growing happens on site with natural sun. Photo by Lucia Starbuck.
Listen to audio version of this report by Lucia Starbuck above.

A Slow Sunday

It’s a slow Sunday afternoon at the SoL Cannabis dispensary in Washoe Valley.

After getting your ID checked you enter an open space with padded couches facing glass tables holding hardback books on cannabis.

Through large windows on one wall, the sun is lighting up rows of cannabis plants.

SoL Cannabis opened its doors to the public on October 26th last year. Manager Dillon Secklin is excited to show patrons the bushy green plants.

But he says it’s been a battle trying to get past Nevada’s strict regulations.

“The regs for the longest time had stated that you couldn’t have anything in actual view, it had to be actual concrete walls,” Secklin said. “The state did not approve this viewing window initially. They fought and fought for it and they finally approved it.”

According to Secklin, rules for operating a dispensary are constantly evolving but he remains optimistic for the future.

An article by former budtender Jordan Gearey was a recent cover story in the Reno News and Review. Photo by Lucia Starbuck.

Profits over Patients and Customers?

A former budtender at another local dispensary, Jordan Gearey, is not as enthusiastic. He feels dispensaries put profits over patients and regular customers. That’s what he wrote in a recent article published by the Reno News and Review. He was traveling in Colombia when he saw his article, “Diary of a Budtender,” make the front page.

In Gearey’s story he also reflected on his experience of being a dealer before it was legal.

“I don’t want to sound too stereotypical hippie, but free love, it brings people together, it brings them closer, it’s something that connects people,” Gearey said. “It’s not a super isolating transaction on a dark and scary alleyway. That’s the part that I’ve really always enjoyed about the culture of weed.”

In 2016, ballot question number two was approved by Nevada voters by a 54–46 margin legalizing consumption of marijuana as of Jan. 1, 2017 with recreational sales beginning later that year. Photo by Lucia Starbuck.

Hectic Sales or Calmer Environment?

In 2001, marijuana became legalized for medicinal use but it wasn’t until 2015 that Nevada’s first medical dispensary, Silver State Relief, opened in Sparks. Before recreational legalization, the atmosphere in dispensaries was calmer, Gearey believes. After weed became legalized for recreational use in July 2017, he says the customers came pouring in.

“When it went recreational it was from the time we opened up our doors in the morning non-stop until we closed our doors and the line of people did not stop for probably that whole month. It was mayhem, it was nuts, I lost my voice, it was non-stop flow … people asking similar questions and I would give them very similar answers,” Gearey said of his experience working at Blum in Midtown Reno.

This is not the environment Secklin wishes for at SoL Cannabis. His goal is to promote education about the plant itself and form bonds with customers.

“It’s not like a turn ’em and burn ’em 7-Eleven style dispensary. You walk in and you just want to get in and out, you want to hang out here when you’re here, you want to sit on the couches, enjoy the plants, enjoy some coffee,” Secklin said. “We encourage people to hang out and ask questions we want you to walk away from this place knowing more than you did when you walked in.”

The waiting room at SoL Cannabis is not exactly like your doctor’s office. Photo by Lucia Starbuck.

Legal at the State Level, But Federally Illegal?

Despite the buzz around marijuana, one obstacle remains in the public’s path. Consumption and possession is still federally against the law. Every 37 seconds there is a marijuana related arrest in the United States according to the ACLU.

On the other side of Reno, inside a tattoo shop, one door is covered in stickers promoting weed, activist groups, and tattoo products. Those inside wanted the shop and themselves to remain anonymous. A local tattoo artist rolls a joint. He remembers when laws were much stricter in Nevada’s neighboring state California.

“I was arrested … they raided two houses…one of them which was a grow house and that was the one that was raided that I was in,” he said. “That was in 2007. Cultivation and possession for sale, in California, LA County, it was intense. [I] got out 20 months later and I think it was after I got out where there was an article in the news that there was more cannabis dispensaries in LA county than Starbucks.”

In 2009, there were 800 to 900 legal medical dispensaries in Los Angeles, but authorities were still cracking down on non-licensed underground operations.

Nevadans over the age of 21 are allowed to purchase and possess up to one ounce of recreational marijuana. Consumption is illegal in public and permitted for private use only. Photo by Lucia Starbuck at SoL Cannabis.

Legal Repercussions Still Apply

The tattoo artist continues to smoke, but uses caution when doing so. “Just because now we have a law where supposedly people voted it was right before they said it was right,” he said.

With cannabis still being federally against the law, and only licensed operations allowed for growing and selling, it can be unclear knowing when the different state and federal laws apply. For example, if facing marijuana charges, university students can get their financial aid suspended.

Reporting by Lucia Starbuck shared with the Reynolds Sandbox

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The Reynolds Sandbox showcases innovative and engaging storytelling by students with the Reynolds Media Lab.

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