Owning a marijuana dispensary isn't the rarity it once was in Colorado, where retail pot shops have been up and running for over five years. Yet even in this growing group, Smokin Gun Apothecary owner Deborah Dunafon stands out for some obvious reasons...and some surprising ones.
Married to Glendale Mayor Mike Dunafon, Deborah Dunafon modeled the dispensary next door to Shotgun Willie's, which she also owns, as a museum for America's War on Drugs — but with a nod to the Gun's racy neighbor. On Friday nights, you can find go-go dancers hanging out in the Smokin Gun, which is built in the shape of a handgun. We recently caught up with Dunafon to learn more about her dispensary and how working in legal pot stacks up with the strip-club business.
Westword: You're married to Glendale Mayor Mike Dunafon. Did that impact the process of opening the Smokin Gun?
Deborah Dunafon: Mayor Mike (aka my better half) was of no consequence to the opening of Smokin Gun Apothecary, except for the fact that he was instrumental in condemning the old Shotgun Willie’s building, costing my partners and me several million dollars! After the mayor condemned the old Shotgun's for the purpose of “widening the street,” Starbucks had preliminary and final approval for a site plan with the City of Glendale.
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However, at the last minute, Starbucks backed out, and I struck while the iron was hot. Since Glendale has a policy that they will not deny a site plan that asks for no variance under the code and does not "moralize" use (note: There is a sex-toy shop, a strip joint, a pot shop and a Chick-fil-A all on the same corner), my partners and I jumped on the existing Starbucks site plan and moved forward with Smokin Gun. I wasn’t happy about what happened with Shotgun's and the fact that we had to rebuild it, but I was excited to break into the cannabis space and open a cutting-edge dispensary on one of the city’s busiest corners.
Your dispensary famously sits next to Shotgun Willie's. Does that bring about some odd questions?
All the time! People have asked us if our budtenders are topless (they aren't), whether we sell mushrooms or acid, too (we don't), whether they can buy cannabis at Shotgun Willie's (you can't), if we have products that are good for sex (we do), and if there really is a strain named after Mayor Dunafon (there is: Dunafon Diesel, which tests over 30 percent THC). There's never a dull day, that's for sure.
What's an easier business space to operate in right now, strip clubs or legal cannabis?
Let me put it this way: Sativa does not stand up and take its “leaves” off or show up late. It isn't controlled by the moon cycle and won't have a bad hair day. You figure it out! And by the way, we've had dancers named "Sativa," and they seem to always get the best tips.
What makes the Smokin Gun different from other dispensaries?
A lot. You'll never see another dispensary like ours. Smokin Gun isn't just a dispensary; it's also a museum that pays homage to the War on Drugs, and an entertainment hot spot. When you walk into our store, three screens share information on the War on Drugs: how it started, what has happened since, and how it has hurt our country. Inside, we have an 1871-era bank-counter window where purchases are made. There is a replica jail cell from 1941 filled with joints of every kind, where you can "buy a joint in the joint." A professional art mural on the checkout counter wall has countless figures that were impacted by or proponents for or against the War on Drugs — Billie Holiday, Snoop Dogg, Willie Nelson and, of course, Harry Anslinger, the man who started the War on Drugs.
History aside, we also have an incredible selection, with 50 to 75-plus strains, 80-plus concentrates and over 120 cannabis-infused products; we are open seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to midnight. Smokin Gun is the only dispensary to offer the Prohibition Pass, a monthly membership for $19.99 that offers special discounts on flower, concentrates, joints and more, as well as invites to special events and a ten-cent gram on your birthday. If you come by on Friday nights, there are live go-go dancers in costume from 9 to 11 p.m. If you want a drink afterward at Shotgun Willie's, showing your Smokin Gun receipt will get you a discount on your first round. And next time you look us up on Google, look at the map photos: The building was designed to look like a Mac-10 pistol from above. Where else can you find all that in one place?
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Denver is struggling to figure out social cannabis consumption. Is that something Glendale has considered?
According to the mayor of Glendale, the city is not opposed to public consumption. Understand that it is not Glendale that promotes public consumption, it's the business sector. It is incumbent on the marijuana entrepreneur to secure a suitable venue. The problem Glendale faces is its small size and limited real estate.
What challenges come with being a dispensary owner that most people don't know about?
Our biggest hurdle is [IRS tax code] 280E. Most people think we — and all dispensaries — are rolling in dough, when, in fact, many of us owe more in federal taxes each year than we make. The whole industry is waiting for that to go away, and it will when enough states legalize cannabis — and when the feds remove marijuana from the list of Schedule I controlled substances.