In the past 10 months, the Official Dispensary Showroom Tour embarked on an intentional journey across New York state, covering diverse regions including The Bronx, Queens, Mount Vernon, Buffalo, Rochester, Long Island, Syracuse, and Poughkeepsie.
From license application bootcamps led by top legal firms to a life-sized dispensary demonstrating compliance with current regulations, the emphasis was on ensuring that under-resourced communities gained the knowledge necessary to actively participate in the ever-evolving New York cannabis industry.
By integrating workforce development and local community groups, the tour not only showcased compliance education but also contributed to equitable job opportunities, thereby reinforcing its role as a model for inclusivity and economic empowerment in the cannabis landscape.
Over the years, I have been lucky enough to have worked with some of the smartest, hardest working cannabis retail operators in the world (and even luckier to now call some of them my colleagues), and I’ve learned a few things from them along the way.
Here are some tips I shared during the tour for anyone looking to open a cannabis retail dispensary in New York:
Identify the decision makers.
When it comes to opening a dispensary, identifying your decision makers and forging connections with them as early as possible are key. This includes:
- Regulators at the Office of Cannabis Management
- Elected officials in the district where you intend to open your dispensary
- Local cannabis advocacy and business associations
- Community boards
- Relevant union representatives.
Regulators should also be viewed as allies, not adversaries, so try to make their job as easy as possible.
Pay attention to the details.
Failing your inspection due to minor oversights, such as forgetting to submit a site inspection to your community board or missing a security camera in a blind spot behind your point-of-sale counter, can set the opening date of your dispensary back.
Operating a cannabis retail dispensary is a full-time job – so treat it like one.
While many are drawn to the industry out of passion for the plant, passion alone is not enough to be successful. Running a dispensary isn’t a hobby or side hustle. It demands full-time dedication.
Treating it as anything less could lead to failure, considering that your competitors, including those in the illicit market, are not only treating it like a full-time job, but they are spending every waking moment working around the clock to outshine their competition.
Do not overextend yourself.
Due to the extensive approval process, opening a dispensary is costly and always takes longer than initially planned. Be ready for prolonged periods of “Hurry up and wait. Then wait some more.”
Basic business needs, such as rent, insurance, and banking, will cost a lot more in cannabis retail in comparison to a regular business operation. Ensure you have substantial runway.
Labor will be one of your largest expenses, so avoid hiring too quickly.
Consider the number of staff you believe you’ll need upon opening, then reduce that by 50%. It is always easier to add more staff later than to hire too fast and cut good employees prematurely.
Do not allow your landlord to base rent on early sales projections.
By the time you open, market conditions may have already shifted, with increased competition or oversupply of products. Always negotiate an exit clause. A five-year lease in “cannabis time” is like signing a 50-year lease.
Build a team with extensive cannabis compliance experience.
Cannabis is one of the most highly regulated industries. Compliance is vital. It is the difference between ever opening or getting shut down.
But compliance is also confusing, mind-numbing, and complicated. Seek professionals—accountants, lawyers, construction, and tech vendors—with specialized cannabis experience, not just a history in regulated industries. Alcohol and tobacco are not directly transferable. If any vendor tries to convince you otherwise, they are likely trying to win your business so they can break into the cannabis industry.
Success in retail is challenging; succeeding in cannabis retail is exponentially harder. Do not underestimate how wonderfully difficult this industry can be.
Throughout the Dispensary Showroom Tour, meeting thousands of future cannabis entrepreneurs revealed the energy, determination and drive necessary to innovate the rollout of the legal cannabis industry in New York, and truly set the tone for the rest of the country. Afterall, if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere, right?
Anne Forkutza is head of social impact & industry partnerships at Dutchie, an all-in-one technology platform powering the cannabis industry with point of sale, e-commerce, payments, and insurance.