KALAMAZOO, MI — The pioneers of Michigan recreational marijuana are closing the books on their first year of legal sales after staggered government approvals allowed pot shops to open in some places and banned them in other communities.
A dozen recreational cannabis shops opened their doors in Kalamazoo County in 2020, and several others are planning to join the party soon.
The opening of the first recreational store in the area, KKind in Kalamazoo Township, happened in March after the coronavirus had already arrived in the state. Cannabis stores were allowed to remain open under the governor’s restrictions, but have faced requirements meant to keep people safe from the virus, such as reduced occupancy limits.
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For many shops, the restrictions meant embracing curbside service and delivery options.
Despite the pandemic, the first year of recreational sales at Cannamazoo far outpaced what the shop was selling previously to medical marijuana customers, owner Adam Tucker told MLive. The store began selling to adult-use customers in Kalamazoo in 2020.
Sales increased by about 400% in the time since the business began selling to all people 21 and over, and not just those with medical cannabis cards, Tucker said. The growing number of stores in the area has not been a issue for Cannamazoo he said.
“We haven’t really seen a difference because the real competition to the legal market is the black market,” Tucker said.
Cannamazoo opened the medical side of its business in June 2019, and began selling to adult-use, or recreational, customers in 2020.
The switch from medical to recreational is not unique to the business. Every licensed medical marijuana facility in the area now also sells in the recreational market.
The city of Kalamazoo’s delayed action to allow adult use shops while ironing out a social equity component meant that the businesses could not open until after June, when the city approved the pot shops. In some communities in the state where local regulations were put in place earlier, recreational sales began as early as December 2019.
All recreational shops in Kalamazoo, including the second location of Cannamazoo near Western Michigan University’s campus, had to wait until after June 1 to open. The business’ West Main location was open for a period of months before it closed, mostly due to factors such as COVID-19, Tucker said, and changes to the student population in Kalamazoo during the pandemic.
After the first year of legal adult use sales of cannabis in Kalamazoo, 12 recreational shops are now licensed for adult-use marijuana sales in Kalamazoo County:
- Cannamazoo, 4500 W KL Ave., Kalamazoo (closed)
- Cannamazoo, 2233 N. Burdick Street, Kalamazoo Township
- Compassionate Care By Design, 4126 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo
- Compassionate Care By Design, 401 N. Sage Street, Kalamazoo
- Doja, 4203 E Center, Portage
- Exclusive Kalamazoo, 937 Foster, Kalamazoo
- Herbology, 1986 S. Sprinkle Road, Kalamazoo
- KKind, 521 E. Mosel Ave., Suite A, Kalamazoo Township
- Lake Effect, 8314 Portage Road, Portage
- Lume Cannabis Co., 3406 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo
- Mint Cannabis, 730 E Cork, Kalamazoo
- The Refinery, 3650 Alvan Road, Kalamazoo
Even more shops are planning to open in the area in the future, including:
- Gage, 2712 Portage Street
- SKYMINT, 8542 Shaver Road
- Redbud Roots Lab, 218 E. Stockbridge Avenue
The names of the marijuana shops include a mix of local brands and others, like Lume, that have a presence across the state.
As the number of businesses increases, brands are taking slightly different paths to differentiate themselves, keying on product offerings, pricing and marketing to connect with customers.
In May, Lume launched a line of branded cartridges along the spectrum from Indica to Sativa types of cannabis strains. They have names like “Dream,” an Indica meant to help you fall asleep, and “Move,” a Sativa strain the company says helps you go out and get going. The company’s Kalamazoo location, now one of about a dozen across the state, opened in June.
“It’s clear to me that cannabis is becoming more and more normalized each day as people begin to understand its benefits,” said Lume Cannabis Company Chief Marketing Officer John Gregory. “We see ourselves as a big part of this cultural shift and will continue to lead by doing things the right way.”
While there is certainly more local competition than when Lume first opened in Kalamazoo, the business has not seen a negative impact on sales, Gregory said.
All the shops strive to balance quality products with prices that will help them find their place in the growing market.
Tucker said customers care about the price point, and mentioned quality of the product and efficiency as other important elements. Cannamazoo, like some others, is working toward a goal of full vertical integration with growing, processing and retail operations all under the same company umbrella.
Tucker said the industry has been able to operate despite the impacts of COVD-19, thought he said the second Cannamazoo location is closed and currently for sale. The reason for the closure was related to student population on campus and COVID-19, he said.
Some in the industry are feeling beat up, Tucker said, noting how much work time and resources it takes to get to the stage of opening and running a successful business.
“But at the same time, all of us are saying this is the most fun we’ve ever had,” Tucker said. “There is no other industry that we could be doing what we’re doing.”
The work is fun and rewarding, he said.
When it comes to selecting products, Tucker said it is about constantly get feedback from customers about what they want. The shops are working to make the best buys they can, while working to stay on top of emerging trends.
Different business models and styles are represented in the emerging local cannabis market. Some brands favor using the word cannabis to describe their offerings, while others take an approach that embraces long-held nicknames for the plant, as seen on billboards that read “REC WEED” near the Sprinkle Road interchange of I-94 and elsewhere.
Businesses range from the Kalamazoo County-based KKIND, Cannamazoo and Lake Effect, to others coming in from outside the community, such as the vertically integrated and fresh-sounding SKYMINT.
SKYMINT is expected to open in Portage in early 2021, CEO and co-founder Jeff Radway said.
“We’re happy to be part of an exploding market,” Radway said, calling it an “incredible economic bright spot” for Michigan.
“Our industry grew from just under $7 million in sales statewide in December 2019 to over $54 million last month, and we just celebrated our best sales day ever on Black Friday,” he said.
SKYMINT operates 11 cannabis stores around the state, nine of which are licensed for recreational sales, he said.
The SKYMINT team is made up of more than 350 experts and enthusiasts that are passionate about the craft of cannabis, Radway said, and the brand works to bring excellent customer service, inspiring store design and experience and “the state’s best selection of premium cannabis products.”
What is happening in Michigan is a factor in the larger, national conversation about cannabis, Radway said, and how it relates to the criminal justice system.
“We have seen outstanding growth for our industry over the past year, and that momentum has translated nationally as evidenced by the ongoing conversation regarding the federal decriminalization of cannabis,” he said. “That trajectory is critical to growing our economy and to getting justice for so many who are being punished for nonviolent crimes under outdated and defunct cannabis prohibition laws.”
Radway said the company provides jobs with benefits like a 401K retirement match, and “rewarding” work.
“Happy people make happy plants,” he said.
Several marijuana grow businesses have also set up shop in Kalamazoo.
Harbor Farmz and Seven Point Supply are new grow operations, both with new facilities built, at the Davis Creek business park, which the city had tried unsuccessfully for years to attract developers to.
Cannamazoo, which was fueled in part by caregiver products for much of 2020, is now shifting to bring those growers inside under the roof of a larger grow space, and working toward the goal of establishing the name as a product that’s sought after on at other stores, Tucker said.
“We look at retail as the last piece to really expand on, but we want to make it as a processor as it grow and be on the shelves of multiple dispensaries across the state,” Tucker said.
He looks to the success of some of Kalamazoo’s craft beer businesses as inspiration for the kind of brand he is trying to create in cannabis.
“Bell’s and One Well — those are my inspiration for creating a brand that will make it on the market,” Tucker said.
Recreational sales in Kalamazoo County center around the city of Kalamazoo as well as Portage and nearby Kalamazoo Township where adult-use marijuana businesses are currently allowed.
Meanwhile, 18 local municipalities have opted out completely, meaning no cannabis businesses are allowed there, according to the state of Michigan: Alamo Township, Village of Augusta, Brady Township, Charleston Township, Climax Township, Comstock Charter Township, Cooper Charter Township, Galesburg, Oshtemo Charter Township, Parchment, Pavilion Township, Prairie Ronde Township, Richland Township, Ross Township, Schoolcraft Township, Village of Schoolcraft, Texas Charter Township and the village of Vicksburg.
Still left in limbo is the status of designated consumption lounges in Kalamazoo. The city decided not to include consumption lounges in their plans, citing the coronavirus restrictions.
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