From the Ground Up: GreenPharms Dispensaries Run on Family and Frugality

Bailey Voss for GreenPharms
Marie Paredes Saloum
Marie Paredes Saloum jokes that she couldn’t keep her hibiscus plant alive before she became an expert in an industry based on growing its products.

She’s now owner of two Arizona dispensaries and a cultivation center.

After opening GreenPharms Dispensary in Flagstaff in 2013 with the help of her two brothers, and a grow site shortly after, she and her husband opened a second dispensary in the town of Littlefield in 2014. If you’ve never heard of it, that’s why they moved the dispensary to Mesa in 2016.

Aside from holding down second place on Leafly’s list of top Arizona dispensaries, what makes GreenPharms special is the way it’s grown without any outside investment.

Before getting into the cannabis game, Paredes Saloum and her husband lived in the Los Angeles area, where she worked as a loan officer for a mortgage company and her husband sold houses. She toiled weekends as a stylist at her mother’s salon and nights as an assistant at a modeling agency.

With a 4-year-old son and no college degrees, she and her husband decided to move to Arizona in 2003, where they continued their work in real estate. Though they brought some clients with them, they’d still fly back and stay with her mother to do business in L.A.

“I was doing well, but was I happy? No,” she said.

She never kept much money on hand, putting money into savings as soon as it came in. When she decided she wanted to open a dispensary in 2011, she went all in for the license application.

After having a son as a teenager, she and her future husband faced doubt from friends and family. “He’s going to be a welfare baby,” they told her. The sentiment didn’t change when they decided to open a dispensary.

Paredes Saloum remembers a family member in her living room, just before she began the application process, telling her, “When you come asking for a penny, I won’t even give you a penny.” She never asked.

But it wasn’t easy to come up with the startup cash. She even used money her son had made as an 8-year-old acting in commercials and a minor role in the 2007 movie Bratz. She’s paid it back since, she said.

On top of tight funds, she also found that other businesses would raise their prices when they heard she wanted to open a dispensary. From design and construction to rent and advertising, she met with inflated prices or just refusal of business.

“After they did that,” she said, “I was like, ‘You know what? I never needed help from somebody else, we’re not going to start now, and I’m not going to beg anyone to help me and pay them at the same time.’”

So, she designed the layout and her brothers constructed the interior of the Flagstaff store with materials from the Home Depot down the street. (The only exception was the epoxy floor — despite her brother’s insistence that he could watch a YouTube video to figure out how to do it.)

GreenPharms operates its own management company and Paredes Saloum’s husband, who happens to be better with plants than she, manages the cultivation center.

She said that when she decided to start giving some of the proceeds from the medical cannabis business to charity, her offers were rejected by the Susan G. Komen Foundation and St. Jude Children’s Hospital.

In response, she got involved with Bosom Buddies, which helps single moms and other women with cancer by helping pay for rent and treatment when funds get tight.

“Your health, that’s priceless,” Paredes Saloum said. “And if can help to get people better, it makes me feel like I’m doing something with my life.”