Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal
Meet the state’s new medical marijuana shopping experience.
The Minerva Canna Group, one of New Mexico’s 23 licensed nonprofit medical cannabis producers, has launched what owner Erik Briones calls a mall-like experience for its clients. Customers at the Los Ranchos facility can now shop for a vaporizer, growing supplies and maybe even a hemp T-shirt while they pick up their medical pot.
Briones said adding a heavy retail component to the 4-year-old operation provides his more than 4,000 registered clients with a more convenient experience, while also helping him with his annual tax bill.
But the move is also about positioning. Should New Mexico go the way of Colorado and Washington and legalize recreational marijuana, Briones thinks he would already have a solid business model in place.
“We’re certainly trying to put ourselves in that position to be ahead of the pack and have a facility ready for that day,” he said. “But, in the meantime, we’re really just trying to provide services for our patients.”
For now, Minerva remains closed to all but card-carrying members of New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program. A staff member stationed at the front door checks to make sure everyone who enters has the right credentials.
Once clients walk inside, they will find a series of different rooms off a main corridor. Take an immediate left, and there’s a space stocked with fertilizers, lights, organic insecticides and other tools to aid a home growing operation. (Patients who have a separate personal producer license can even get pot-growing advice from staff.)
Straight down the main corridor is the check-in desk and a small waiting area, complete with a cushy love seat.
From there, a right turn leads to a “lifestyle store,” where vaporizers, glass pipes and other ingestion products stock glass cases, and a small assortment of hemp clothing hangs from the wall.
A left turn leads into the dispensary. Staff doles out cannabis in bud form, pre-rolled joints and as part of teas, ointments and edibles like lemon bars and cheesecake.
Briones plans to turn another room into space for massages and maybe acupuncture.
“We just want to provide wellness,” he said.
Briones said his current operation is unlike any other in the state.
Although the Department of Health keeps the list of the state’s 23 licensed medical cannabis providers confidential, Paul Jaramillo, an assistant manager at another Albuquerque dispensary, Medzen Services, said he’s unaware of another local medical cannabis provider that also sells growing supplies, and a wide range of ingestion products and accessories.
“I’ve never seen all three under one roof,” he said.
Briones, who launched Minerva Canna in 2010 after closing his Purple Sage Garden Center nurseries, said the goal was to create a more “pleasurable experience” for patients, whether they are already knowledgeable about weed or need extra guidance. That meant leaving his original 800-square-foot space – it was so cramped, lines often stretched out the door – for a neighboring Los Ranchos site nearly four times larger.
He invested $60,000 in the build-out, using an interior designer to give the place a modern, streamlined design. He likens it to “walking into the Apple computer of the cannabis world.”
The security might be almost as tight. Even though the marijuana is grown elsewhere, cameras monitor every corner of Minerva’s building, and special shutters protect the windows at night.
Briones said his new business model is more advantageous from a tax perspective. Under federal law, he cannot claim deductions related to the operation of a medical cannabis dispensary. Making the dispensary part of a larger, multipurpose facility “allows me to deduct everything around it,” he said.
The medical cannabis business is big enough that New Mexico’s licensed growers have had trouble keeping up with demand. There are 10,818 patients enrolled in the program, according to a Department of Health spokesman.
Briones said he averages 200 customers a day, but he knows there could be an even larger market for his product one day. He recently hired a new marketing director, Penn Way.
A proposed constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana introduced during the 2014 legislative session failed to clear its first committee, but Briones said attitudes about marijuana are evolving.
If recreational use is ever legalized in New Mexico, “We’ll be set up with a facility that can accommodate a much larger clientele,” he said.