Medical marijuana patients might remember the newly rebranded and remodeled Cannabist dispensary in Tempe as SWC Arizona, a subsidiary of New York-based Columbia Care that’s been operating since 2013.
But they might not recognize it. After adult-use recreational sales of marijuana began in January, the company decided to give its dispensaries facelifts, and the Cannabist location on Price Road and Fifth Street has a whole new look that’s part industrial chic (dark wood beam ceilings, exposed ductwork in sleek black), and part nature retreat (the lobby area is a narrow indoor-outdoor setting with trees, bushes, and a giant window into the Cannabist grow room, where the leaves of more than two dozen adolescent plants flutter in breezes from surrounding fans).
“The dispensary has been designed to help us achieve our ultimate mission, which is to just elevate the cannabis experience into a higher experience for everyone,” says Cannabist general manager Isaiah Collins.
Hundreds of people visited Cannabist when it opened to the public over Memorial Day weekend. The location sits on the corner of Price and Fifth, along the frontage road for the 101 freeway, anchoring an industrial office complex. There’s not much shade for the perpetual line of customers outside, but once they’re admitted into the lounge area, it’s a bit cooler, both in terms of temperature and aesthetics, with the aforementioned greenery, plus a blue neon sign that reads “A Higher Experience.”
Like most dispensaries, Cannabist limits the number of customers that can be inside its store at one time, as well as the number of customers who can wait in the lobby queue at one time (hence the line outside).
Customers who stopped by over opening weekend included a diverse range of people, from seniors with medical cards to families with older children.
The Cannabist dispensary includes a new counseling room, where people who might have questions about cannabis products can sit down and talk with a trained team member.
“In our hiring process, we’re making sure we have the best of the best out there representing the Cannabist brand,” Collins says. “If they don't know something, they’re great at asking one of their peers who might have a little bit more expertise or experience in a certain area.”
The counseling room includes a television for educational videos. On the desk in the counseling room, a stack of pamphlets for local edibles brand Good Things Coming (made by Valley chef Aaron Chamberlin) has a prominent place below colorful framed posters of lemon candies and tinctures.
Cannabist carries a lot of locally made products, Collins says, and though it’s owned by a national company, it’s staying a locally focused business, and not just through the products it carries.
“Our marketing coordinator, Krystal (Poleon), keeps us active in our community through partnering with local businesses and vendors, who help with various outreaches,” Collins says. “We also have an Adopt a Family program where we collect donations that are used to pay for patients’ medicine. This has grown from us sponsoring one to now sponsoring six different individuals.”
Customers can also ask questions about the plants on display in the new cultivation room. Cannabist stocks a wide range of vapes, edibles, and concentrates, but focuses on flower. Currently, Cannabist has two of its own flower brands, Triple Seven and Seed & Strain, with a third (called Classix) coming soon.
“We’re approachable, passionate, and unapologetic about the power of this plant,” Collins says. “The biggest thing about cannabis is, it’s something that people can basically use as a medicine to help them in their day-to-day life, whether it's through pain management or whether it’s just to help them sleep at night, or whether it’s just personal enjoyment.”
One of the big goals of the Cannabist rebrand, Collins says, is to be a retail intersection between medical and recreational customers by creating a place where everyone feels welcome. To that end, there are specials and sales for both kinds of customers, and an extensively trained staff that Collins says is the main factor that makes Cannabist stand out from other dispensaries.
“The biggest thing that makes us stand out from our competitors is our team members. They set a high standard for service and creating an experience that cannot be found anywhere else,” he says.