I walked to the building and looked up, and like many Sacramento businesses, it was a converted single family home with exuberant charm and a sense of warmth I’d never experienced from a San Francisco dispensary. An older woman and her friend were laughing as they walked down the front stoop, and they both nodded in my direction with warm smiles and kind eyes. I noticed their hands, knotted and twisted from years of arthritis.
As I walked in, the security guard greeted me with a friendly smile and offered me a seat in the living room as I waited.
Kimberly met me promptly and offered me a tour of her dispensary, A Therapeutic Alternative, which opened in 2008 and currently serves both medical and recreational members. We stepped into what I imagine was once the dining room of the old house, and the first thing she pointed out was the many frames that covered every wall. Inside each frame was a letter from happy and thankful patients who had sent stories about how cannabis had changed their health, and ultimately, their lives. There were also press articles, photos and official legislation that Kimberly had helped draft.
All images courtesy of Chantel Elder>
We then walked through another doorway into the old kitchen, which now housed the small but well stocked dispensary. The budtenders looked at us and offered a friendly hello as we passed. After a quick peek into the therapy rooms in the back (which were appropriately zen-like complete with massage tables and soft lighting), Kimberly led me to her office, and we chatted for a while.
She asked me about my background before diving into her history with cannabis. The story of her involvement in the industry over the past 15 years is long and full of twists. We discussed government policy and dispensary raids, failed permits and lost investments. She reminded me that “Ten, 15 years ago, this wasn’t an industry—it was a movement,” and that we still have so much to do. We can’t just sit still and think everything will work itself out.
We kept coming back to the topic of education within dispensaries. Kimberly strongly believes that the people who work at dispensaries need to be better educated about cannabis. She says customers who come into the dispensary “have so many questions that budtenders simply can’t answer, and they can’t get caught in the trap of giving out health advice when they aren’t trained to do so, especially with recreational legalization.” In addition, if patients are more educated, they are less likely to make poor choices when medicating. “Ultimately, better education for consumers leads to better customer retention for dispensaries,” she said.
On January first, cannabis became available to a massive group of people in California, many of whom will be experimenting with the plant for the first time. They’ll need education around consumption methods, strains and dosages, and they won’t be familiar with terminology such as sativa, cannabinoids and microdosing.
The same notion goes for dispensary owners, as well, and they need even more insight into the industry than ever before. Laws are changing and updated regularly. Licensing and compliancy can’t be ignored and are time-consuming needs that are piled on top of regular business owner responsibilities. Kimberly says she’ll soon be involved in a program through the City of Sacramento to help minorities enter the regulated cannabis market, and she will be mentoring women business owners as they get off the ground.
The longer I stayed, the more I didn’t want to leave. I had half a mind to schedule a massage, but alas, San Francisco was calling me home. We wrapped up our conversation and said our goodbyes. Like with every interview in this industry, I left feeling more honored to be a part of it. The struggle to get to where we are today is genuine and revolutionary, and I’m humbled by the legacy people like Kimberly will leave behind.