New Nevada and California laws allow residents and tourists over the age of 21 to purchase recreational marijuana. Sierra Living’s Matthew Bieker traveled to Incline Village—on the border of both states—to sit down with NuLeaf’s Director of Operations and discuss what it all means.
Story and Photography by Matthew Bieker
This is the only recreational dispensary currently at Lake Tahoe—and the only dispensary of any kind on the Nevada side. From conception to when Nevada law allowed it, what was the timeline? We started this project back in 2013, when they were discussing allowing medical dispensary storefronts in Nevada. So this was pre-recreational, and we wanted to choose somewhere we thought we could serve the local and tourist population, and what better place than the beautiful Lake Tahoe area to set up a cannabis store? We started making partnerships here in Nevada with some investors…and went through the application process. We were approved in 2015 for the location, and able to open the store (for medical sales) on July 1, 2016. And then we started August 5, 2017, for recreational sales.
Why did you feel like you wanted to undertake something like this? I was a part of the parent company of NuLeaf—which is Berkeley Patients Group in Berkeley, California. They’ve been operating since 1999, currently the oldest medical marijuana dispensary in the United States. I started with them in 2007 while I was still attending UC Berkeley and pretty much did everything you could do for them—from budtending to dispensary management; I was their purchaser for a little bit, inventory operations; the whole gamut. And because I have a degree in political science and I’m not the worst technical writer, I was an obvious choice to help write the applications. (Then) I decided to hop on the opportunity to come up here to Nevada and set up some new shops.
You’ve been doing this for over a decade now, and a lot of the terms that we hear—CBD (cannabidiol), THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), CBN (cannabinol), terpenes—are all new to a lot of people, but you’ve been dealing with them for a long time? Yeah,…and customers are also more savvy. Some people want a good ratio between CBD (which is non-psychoactive and has a relaxing effect) and THC (the principal psychoactive element in marijuana). Some people want high THC values, some people want low THC values; some people are looking for CBN (which has sedative effects) to help them sleep. And then, as you said, terpenes are newer in terms of how we look at them in our products, but they probably have the largest effect on how you feel when you consume cannabis: Limonene—that you’d find in sativas—is probably what’s producing the uplifting effect. Or mercene, which you find in a lot of indicas, is actually producing the kind of sleepy effect…It’s been hard for scientists to do the kind of testing they want, but now we’re actually starting to see real studies come out.
And that means a safer product for consumers? Pre-testing is that last quality assurance check, but really, it’s regulation that’s producing a safe product. Especially when you compare California to Nevada’s market: There are a lot of underground actors in California because of the way laws are set up—and they’re not being regulated in the same way that providers are in Nevada. (For instance), I don’t think any of the providers in Nevada would risk using pesticides because they risk their multi-million dollar investment.
How do you counteract any of the [negative] stigmas of what cannabis stores are like? During the permitting process with locals, there was some hesitation. We definitely did a lot of outreach to put those fears to rest and let them know that, “No, we’re not the kind of operator you’re thinking in your head—we’re someone different.” Basically, we’re a medical dispensary, but we’re letting in recreational customers at this point. So we haven’t lost our desire to provide the best products or a knowledgeable staff. Our motto has always been: “Safe Access.” So, a clean store, a safe store, a regulated store; those are the ways you take the cannabis industry out of the image of someone on a couch with a phone in their basement, in a smoky environment. This store looks great. It looks like a high-end retail store that you would expect to see Apple at. That’s what we’ve modeled ourselves after; we want to have a very professional presentation because our customers deserve it.
Can you describe your outreach to this community? We had a lot of meet and greets and panel discussions; we had an open house before we opened up for business so we could lift the veil of mystery for the residents of Incline Village. We wanted them to come in and see the professional presentation—and it worked. Since we’ve opened, we haven’t had any real complaints from our neighbors and we follow the regulations to a “T” to prevent diversion, to prevent access to children, and other stuff like that.
We’ve also made donations locally—a program out of the high school and the Washoe Sheriff’s Association; we just want to be a good neighbor and do what we can to serve the residents and tourists that are here. We think we will drive more traffic to this area as well, and we hope that helps the shops around us. We have great relationships with our neighbors and we don’t want to do anything that would hurt them.
If someone wanted to take advantage of Nevada’s new recreational laws, someone who really didn’t know anything about weed, how do you walk them through their purchasing process? The first thing I’d want to understand is how they prefer to consume the medicine. A lot of people still like to smoke the raw flowers, but others are looking to reduce the impact on their lungs. So we’ve got edibles available, we’ve got topicals to snuff out any pain at the source, we’ve got cartridges—which you vaporize instead of combust, so you get less tar on your lungs. And with the cartridges and the extracts, they deliver a higher percentage of THC per hit so that you can smoke less.
Next, what kind of effect are you looking to get out of your cannabis? Something that’s a little bit more energetic and uplifting, something more sedative, or something in between? And that will help us point to sativa, indica or hybrid strains.
And then the last piece is what kind of flavors are you looking for? And people don’t always have an answer on that one, but that’s how I shop for flowers. I’m really more into the flavor of cannabis and finding something enjoyable for myself.
How easy would it be for the federal government to come in and cut the strings on this? Do you live with that day by day? I guess that’s still technically a possibility, but I don’t see it as a probability. We are paying taxes to the state and federal government, so I think that buys us our protection right there.
And there are 30+ states that have either medical or recreational programs. So I don’t know if you can put the genie back in the bottle. But I think what we’ve seen over the past decade is we’re moving in a positive direction as an industry, and self-regulating to the point where no one can complain about what we’re doing.
Great, thanks very much for speaking with me today.