'Creating A Welcoming, Safe Environment For All' - Q&A With Anh Solis Of Plantacea
In this series, Ophelia Chong, co-founder of Asian Americans for Cannabis Education, mines critical advice from the most powerful Asian American entrepreneurs in the cannabis space today.
Asian Americans for Cannabis Education first interviewed Anh Solis of Plantacea in 2017. Now, she is ready for her biggest pivot in 2020.
Since 2017 when she first appeared on AACE, Solis has changed the name of her dispensary to Plantacea and expanded to two stores respectively in Vallejo and Monterey Bay, California. The industry has gone through many life cycles since all entrepreneurs in the space are again asked to pivot to stay in the business.
What was the biggest pivot you made?
Anh Solis: Expansion! We are very excited about the growth we have achieved and the positive impacts we have made in our community and are ready to take our work to the next level. I am excited to announce we are partnering with Coastal Dispensary, based out of Santa Barbara CA to expand our reach and deepen our engagement throughout CA. Coastal is a cannabis retail dispensary company based in Santa Barbara CA focused on uplifting the best aspects of a happy, healthy CA lifestyle. Our decision to merge with Coastal will result in my ability to have a positive impact on more communities throughout California. Coastal has cannabis operations in Santa Barbara, Lompoc and San Luis Obispo.
Our decision to expand into Seaside has been both a positive business and personal experience for me. It has been wonderful to create a company that gives back to the community in which I grew up. We’re very proud of our new facility and the amazing, diverse local team that makes our business successful.
Additionally rather then a pivot I would like to highlight the progress I have made on my goals of educating the public on cannabis. I have been spearheading our initiative over the last couple of years to help address an industry-wide need for reliable information about how and why consumers use cannabis products. We founded and funded the Plantacea Labs project with two Ph.D. neuroscience researchers affiliated with Stanford University to explore clinical measures of well-being and the relationship between well-being, mindfulness, and health outcomes.
We are proud that our facilities have become a meeting ground where academia and ordinary consumers interact and allow researchers to collect and examine data from well-being and mindfulness studies in cannabis users, including the impact of stigma on the well-being of cannabis users. I welcome any interested parties to contact us for more information about this exciting and much-needed project.
We’ve continued to pursue our vision for our business and for the industry in the face of increasingly stiff regulatory and economic headwinds. Expanding to the City of Seaside in Monterey county represented both a business opportunity and a way of giving back to the community where I grew up. We’re very proud of our new facility and the diversity and ability of our local team.
Our other major initiative over the last couple of years looks to help address an industry-wide need for reliable information about how and why consumers use cannabis products. We founded and funded the Plantacea Labs project with two Ph.D. neuroscience researchers affiliated with Stanford University to explore clinical measures of well-being and the relationship between well-being, mindfulness, and health outcomes. Our facilities have become a meeting ground where academia and ordinary consumers interact and allow researchers to collect and examine data from well-being and mindfulness studies in cannabis users, including the impact of stigma on the well-being of cannabis users.
With the federal government and most of the academic community still sitting on the sidelines, it’s left to the industry to fill the void and scientifically verify much of what we know from experience with medical cannabis patients. Obviously this is a heavy lift for a single mom-and-pop business and we will explore ways to expand this effort in the future with additional participation and funding sources. We welcome any interested parties to contact us for more information about this exciting and much-needed project.
How have the consumers changed and how have your dispensaries catered to these new consumers?
We are focused on creating a welcoming, safe environment for all walks of life. Though we are focusing on outreach specifically to seniors to educate them on the benefits of cannabis. Seniors are hungry for information, and our research scientists add credibility to presentations about the uses and beneficial effects of cannabis products. We feel that the senior community is one of the most important to educate on the benefits of cannabis.
Sadly the most notable change has not been a dramatic influx of new recreational consumers into the legal market, but rather the many lower-income medical cannabis patients who have been priced out. After years of steady progress in taking market share from illicit producers, the black market received a huge shot in the arm with the passage of Prop 64, bringing exorbitant tax increases and layer upon layer of additional regulatory hurdles that artificially inflate legal prices. Consumers now pay sales tax on the State’s 15% excise tax on top of local special taxes. The result is an increasingly gentrified market for those who can afford to shop legally and safely.
With Prop 64 and the changes to allow recreational, have you seen the change from cannabis being medicine to recreational?
The arrival of recreational cannabis with its availability to all has made significant progress in normalizing and tearing away at the stigmas of cannabis. For this, I am very grateful.
The medical/recreational distinction is complicated. Our research shows us that even people who identify as recreational users endorse use to treat things like stress and problems with sleep, which easily could be classified as medical use. We also know that it’s variable from one user session to the next, in that sometimes people who consider themselves medical users consume recreationally and some recreational users consume for medical reasons. One thing that has stood out is that medical users have significantly higher physical and mental health complaints than both recreational and people who don’t consume cannabis. We’ve also seen that the physical and mental health complaints of medical users have a much greater impact on their everyday functioning.
Since Prop 64 there has been a blurring of lines between “medical” users and “recreational” cannabis users (often medical users don’t even bother getting a card), but customers who use medically often have specific demands regarding product quality, strain availability, and cannabinoid potency.
How has the list of products changed in three years?
Entrepreneurial creativity is alive and well in the cannabis industry. Product options and applications continue to proliferate and cater to new users like those in the senior community. With our decision to merge with Coastal Dispensary, we will now have the ability to provide a greater selection of products to our community.
Do you see the marketing of cannabis at odds with the original intent of cannabis as medicine?
There are many cannabis products marketed for medicinal uses. I don’t think it’s the way cannabis is marketed that is the problem so much as the lack of solid science-based information to inform product development and medically oriented marketing campaigns. Big pharma can cite their peer-reviewed numbers from clinical trials before quickly rattling off a long list of rather horrible side effects. After all this time scientific study of the physiological and neurological effects of cannabis use is progressing but still in its infancy, leaving specific claims for medical applications open to question. That paucity of reliable information continues to impact how cannabis is marketed and regulated.
Your biggest pivot is coming soon, what is the impetus for that change in your business model?
Yes, we are excited to have Plantacea team up with the Coastal family. As the cannabis market in California changes, we decided it was best to adapt and grow with the market as well. We wanted to find a group to pool our resources with that matched our values and commitment to the community to join forces in carrying out our mission of providing education and cannabis to the community.
Coastal is a premier cannabis dispensary company based in Santa Barbara, California. Focused on encouraging a happy, healthy lifestyle, Coastal holds retail, delivery, manufacturing, and distribution licenses across the state serving Santa Barbara, Lompoc, Santa Maria, Orcutt, San Luis Obispo, Ventura, Oxnard, Camarillo, and Paso Robles.
Among the biggest problems with Prop 64 are the provisions for dual state and local regulation that have resulted in a bewildering patchwork of idiosyncratic permit application processes, local operating requirements, or outright bans. While we may have legalized it we have so far failed to normalize it, and as a result, legal businesses must contend with the vagaries of local politics.
To survive and thrive in the current climate requires a deep bench and a range of skill sets difficult to assemble and maintain for a mom and pop-scale operation. We are working to partner with the Coastal family of dispensaries, currently operating in Santa Barbara, Lompoc, Santa Maria/Orcutt, San Luis Obispo, Ventura/Oxnard/Camarillo, and Paso Robles. Pooling resources will allow us to continue to improve the quality of service we can provide to our customers.
And lastly, where do you see yourself in two years?
I am very excited about what the future holds with our growth and partnership with Coastal. The cannabis industry has progressed in so many ways over the last decade and I am excited to have the opportunity to grow our team and be part of a larger mission of good cannabis operators working to create a positive difference in our communities.
We have operated in the city of Vallejo at three different locations over nine years, during which the local rules regarding acceptable locations have changed several times. We have been informed that we will now have to move one more time to conform with new zoning classifications in the City’s updated general plan. In two years I see us in a new permanent Vallejo facility comparable to our home in Seaside, working for the benefit of industry and the communities we have the privilege to serve. And two years will go as fast as the last time I was interviewed on AACE!
Coastal, I believe we will have community-focused retail dispensaries in at least 10 communities across California.
For Ahn Solis' AACE interview in 2017, please go here to Asian Americans for Cannabis Education