New dispensaries have become a rarity in Denver, where stiff competition and a local cap on pot shops have combined to keep the number of dispensaries relatively steady for several years. Sure, stores move, rebrand or are bought out altogether, but you don't find a newly licensed dispensary very often.
A handful of new Denver dispensary licenses became available during a lottery in 2021, however, and Social Cannabis is the first of the winners to emerge. Founded by industry veterans Dan Morgan and Sher Joudah, who met during their time working at Star Buds, Social Cannabis
held its grand opening on April 19. We caught up with Joudah to learn more about this new dispensary at 5068 Federal Boulevard, and how the owners beat the clock to open the day before the plant's biggest day of the year.
Westword: Did opening a dispensary across the street from Regis University require any coaxing on your part?
When we applied, we had to go through a hearing with the City of Denver, and we were very transparent in reaching out to Regis. We wanted to let them know who we were, and we weren't trying to hide that we wanted to put a dispensary across the street. With the work with our registered neighborhood organizations...there was no opposition.
Given Denver's current cannabis landscape, how hard was it to open a new dispensary?
It's extremely difficult. People think that you just get a building and start doing this, but the location setbacks in Denver make it very difficult to find an actual location that meets that criteria. They can't be 1,000 feet from a school, another dispensary or a daycare facility, and so on. So finding a location is the hardest part, and once you do find a place, you need to try to lease or buy it, which is expensive. After that, you need to go through the buildout, and that means visits from Denver Excise and Licenses
and the Marijuana Enforcement Division
. Having the experience we did helped us work through it together, but it's very difficult to open a new dispensary as a one-off.
How did Social Cannabis qualify for the social equity requirement for new cannabis licensees?
Dan Morgan was our applicant, and he was arrested in his college days. That's how we met the social equity criteria.
We've seen cannabis prices and dispensary sales going down for almost a year now in Colorado. Has that changed your expectations at all as you launch a new store?
Sher Joudah's new dispensary opened just in time for 4/20.
Courtesy of Sher Joudah
No. Honestly, that's not at the forefront of our vision for Social Cannabis. I mean, sales are whatever, but we really wanted to do things differently. We've been in the industry for a long time, and in 2018 I was in High Times
as one of the 100 most influential people in the cannabis industry. When you're around a lot of people, you learn how you want to do things differently and better. For Dan and I, our focus with Social Cannabis is giving back.
For example, we've committed $10,000 every year to Denver's North High School for a scholarship. We chose North because we wanted a school in our neighborhood. We've also asked our vendors to participate in a give-back program, so when a customer purchases an edible, the edibles company will give us 25 cents, we match the 25 cents, and then we donate that money to charity. The first charity we've selected assists people coming out of prison for drug-related crimes with housing, clothes and stuff like that. We'll probably pick a new charity every quarter. So, yeah, everyone is worried about sales and this and that, but Dan and I are focused on doing things differently.
So is that what you think will set the store apart from other dispensaries?
I think that definitely sets us apart. Our community participation is important to us. I think that people in the Regis area or the north Denver area, when they have to go shopping, maybe that plays into their minds — that we're trying to improve our community.
You opened right before 4/20, right?
[Laughs.] Yes, we got our license the Friday before 4/20, at 5 p.m. We couldn't have any product in there before we were licensed, so we did a soft opening on Saturday afternoon once we got some products in the dispensary. We had our grand opening on April 19.
Were you worried you wouldn't be able to open before 4/20 hit? That's a pretty big day for dispensaries.
There was some worry, just because we were relying on other people to do their parts. The City of Denver was amazing, and was very open about what we needed to do and when inspections were coming. But it was worrisome, because we're working not just with Excise and Licenses, but the fire department, zoning inspections and building inspections. Getting all of those departments together to sign our inspection was difficult and required a lot of hand-holding and pushing, so we were a little nervous.
So what's behind the name Social Cannabis?
Our tag is to be social, and we want to make [cannabis] a more social experience, rather than the criminal aspect of it — and then being the first social equity applicant. It made sense for that to be part of our brand, too.
Where do you see Colorado's cannabis space going over the next five years?
It's not going to stop growing. Other cities will continue to come online. There are still a lot of cities in Colorado that haven't legalized [cannabis sales] yet, and that will continue to come. Colorado will continue to grow and set the footprint for other states. We're still going to be at the forefront and leading the industry, and the growth will continue. Some people think we've tapped out, but I don't really see that.