They were just retired, or near retirement, baby boomers looking for a new business opportunity. So what if they knew nothing about marijuana except perhaps the fleeting memory of dried out stems and leaves smoked in college four decades ago.
“We treated it like the end of prohibition and the start of the first liquor stores, said Don Henricks, 65, while sitting in Sativa Sisters, a retail recreational marijuana shop on Trent Avenue, with his three partners who include his wife, Gale and long-time friends Cary and Cathy Smith.
The couples opened Sativa Sisters in August 2014, along with the adjoining Amsterdam Coffee Club. Sativa Sisters is now one of the steady top six grossing marijuana retailers in the state, with total sales of $6 million since opening in 2014 and $2.1 million paid in excise taxes to the state. In December, total sales were $571,039 for the month, according to the state Liquor and Cannabis Board.
One of the things the owners didn’t expect was that the majority of customers would look like them: older, retired, grandparents. There are youngsters in their 20s but many of the customers are at least 40 with many in the baby boom bracket – the very people who made up the stereotypical image of rebellious long-haired youngsters smoking weed in the ’60s and ’70s. On this particular Friday afternoon, the steady flow of customers did seem older – lots of gray hair and less than baby-smooth skin.
“What kind of edibles do you got?” a middle-age man with shoulder-length silver hair said, pushing his reading glasses up his forehead so he could look at the back row display of cookies and other marijuana-infused goodies.
Any theory that boomers are beefing up retail pot sales is purely anecdotal. Brain Smith, spokesman for the state Liquor and Cannabis Board, said age information isn’t collected on customers, except that they must be older than 21. When the stores first opened, the prices were high and it seems older, more affluent customers were prevalent. Perhaps people who hadn’t used marijuana for decades and were curious now that it was legal.
“Certainly it’s across the market now,” Smith said about the age ranges, especially after the number of stores permitted expanded and prices dropped.
Regardless of age, the customers are coming and buying a wide variety of marijuana products. Some days the store has hit nearly 1,000 customers.
The state estimates sales will hit more than $1 billion during the next four years, according to a budget forecast published by the Office of Financial Management. Washington is one of four states to make marijuana legal for recreational use. The others are Alaska, Oregon, and Colorado, plus the District of Columbia.
Cathy Smith, who often runs the counter and is in charge of marketing, said first-timers usually go for edibles – spicy cheese nips, dried fruit nuggets, candy; “stoners,” or the frequent users, prefer the oils. The store has other options, from drinks, skin patches, tinctures and capsules to the icon bud.
Smith, 64, said perhaps Sativa Sisters attracts older customers because older people own the store and often are behind the counter, although they do employ younger sales people known as budtenders.
While the business is very serious with some of the strictest government oversight of any product, the Sativa Sisters still find time for fun. After all, the idea of marijuana is to facilitate relaxation and enjoyment.
Gale Henrichs, 60, is known as “Mary” while Cathy is “Jane”; they joke that the guys are also sisters.
“People are shocked we aren’t all young, happening people, that we are four blue hairs,” Gale said with a big grin. Her hair is long and silver, which she calls in a sassy tone “arctic blonde.”
Cary Smith, 67, was the only Sativa Sister who hadn’t tried marijuana. He wears a button-down navy dress shirt and a rust-colored sweater. He is dressed like an older, conservative businessman – sporting a gold marijuana pin on his collar. It’s a nod to his new profession, which in some ways mirrors his retired profession as a timber buyer. Today, he buys bud. And yes, that means he tries the product.
He was shocked how many people he knew were secretly using marijuana, a fact he discovered when recreational marijuana became legal and they learned of his new business venture. Smith said a lot of people used marijuana in college but then quit once jobs and family took priority. Cathy Smith added that many people feared getting caught and losing their jobs, businesses and children. She laughs that she was too much of a “goodie two-shoes” to use pot while in college.
She told of an older man when the store first opened who gawked at the selection of marijuana products.
“He put his hat over his heart and said, ‘I (didn’t) believe I was ever going to see this in my life time,’ ” she said.
Gale Henricks told of two sisters in their 80s who use a couple puffs of sativa for energy to get their gardening done.
Cathy Smith uses marijuana to help her sleep. Gale Henrichs has multiple sclerosis. She’s done lots of research and found what helps her sleep and what helps ease the pain in her legs and increase mobility. Because Sativa Sisters is not a medical marijuana retailer, it can’t give medical advice. When customers ask about how to relieve symptoms they refer them to the Medical Jane website and ask them to do their own research.
They are careful to warn newbies – especially the boomers – that marijuana is very different from the ’60s. Today’s buds have higher THC levels and are more pure. All the products sold in Washington are inspected, lab tested and labeled with amounts and THC levels, the psychoactive agent.
Smith, of the Liquor and Cannabis Board, said that overdoses have always been a concern, especially with edible marijuana products. That’s why each dose is wrapped separately. Unlike smoking or vaping, the effects of ingested marijuana aren’t instant. It can take up to two hours.
The Washington Poison Center reports the number of calls regarding marijuana increased in 2015, with 133 cases, including 10 in Spokane, in the first two quarters of the year. That’s up from 109 calls in 2014. The Toxic Trends Report states that the increase could be due to increased education efforts on what to do if “someone is having a bad experience with marijuana.”
The report concluded that the majority of exposures in the first half of 2015 resulted in minor effects, meaning “minimally bothersome to the patients.” No deaths were reported and the report said that more than half of the cases involved intentional use of marijuana with abuse as the top reason for why poison control was contacted.
But not everyone is looking for a “high.” Now that marijuana is more mainstream and recognized for its health benefits, people are wanting it for everything from arthritis, cancers and Alzheimer’s to pain relief and sleeping issues, just like a couple of the Sativa Sisters. There are strains that have lower levels of THC and higher levels of cannabidiol, called CBD, that makes it more appealing for therapy.
Don Henrichs, a local architect, said the beauty of the new marijuana stores is that people have choice and can get the product that suits them best.
“I used to buy a lid that was mostly weeds, seeds, stems and maybe a little bud,” Henrichs said. “It could have been oregano. But now everything is inspected and tested. You know what you are getting.”
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