Stockton’s three cannabis businesses are now thriving
STOCKTON — The store clerks, experts in the trade, are known as budtenders.
Depending on the product, you can smoke, drink or rub on the merchandise, or apply a medicated transdermal patch, or put a drop in your mouth beneath your tongue.
Products have names like Motorbreath, Sherbaccio, Dr. Extreme and Kosher Dawg, the last of which is not believed to have received the blessing of any known rabbi.
With little fanfare, commercial recreational marijuana sales became legal in Stockton late last year and three dispensaries that up until then had plied their wares only to the medical-cannabis trade began selling adult-use products in November.
And business appears to be booming at the three locations: Connected Cannabis at 678 N. Wilson Way; Port City Alternative at 1550 W. Fremont St.; and Zen Garden Wellness at 7632 Pacific Ave.
“I’ve definitely seen a difference in sales, the volume of people we get in here,” Layla Rabah, general manager of Connected Cannabis, said of the newfound ability to legally sell recreational cannabis in addition to the medical product. “I have to double my staff. Before, I could have two budtenders throughout the day. I need to have four to five now.”
Port City proprietor Mike Carlson said of his customers, “It’s your next-door neighbor, senior citizens, people of all classes.”
It’s been more than two years since California voters approved Proposition 64. Fifty-seven percent of voters in California and 52 percent of San Joaquin County voters gave their assent.
In 2018, city of Stockton staff members and elected officials completed the lengthy task of establishing a regulatory framework for the new industry.
The city has estimated that legal sales of recreational cannabis will bring in an additional $1 million a year in tax revenue. Two more dispensaries are still going through the application process in efforts to join the three legally operating sites.
San Joaquin County, on the other hand, has yet to establish the taxation and regulatory rules that would govern legal commercial sales. A county measure that required two-thirds approval to pass received only 63.5 percent of the vote in November’s election.
Visits to Stockton’s trio of dispensaries revealed a new business sector that appears to be thriving.
A steady stream of customers, old and young, were allowed to enter after being admitted by mandatory security guards and stopping at the front desk to show their IDs to prove they were at least 21 years old. Connected Cannabis also required customers to pass through a metal detector.
Once inside, customers were greeted by universally cheerful budtenders ready to discuss the products whose names shone off digitized electronic menus.
The dispensaries all had onsite ATMs. Buyers beware: At this point, legal recreational cannabis in California is strictly a cash business.
Several customers and one employee declined interview requests and refused to be photographed because of the stigma others still may attach to cannabis, even in its newly legalized state.
Others, however, spoke freely.
“I either need something to calm me down or something to keep me going,” 27-year-old Kiara Parham said after purchasing Glue #1 cannabis flowers.
“I’ve tried the gummies, tried the beverages a couple of times, and the (transdermal) patches,” added Parham, who smokes her purchases. “They’re very expensive.”
At Port City Alternative, customer Willard Hall, 33, said, “I love that the world is finally opening up to ... marijuana use. It’s not what people think. I think it sparks creativity. I use it to make myself better.”
Not all customers are millennials. Some, in fact, are nearly centennials, including a 90-year-old woman who recently stopped by Connected Cannabis to make a purchase.
“She said she wanted the best kush we had,” budtender Carrie Powell recalled. “I found it, and she was ready to go.”
Added Rabah: “It’s fun to see the variety of folks who come in. It’s a lot of smiles.”