In some families, raising the cannabis plant is a time-honored tradition. Back at the end of the 1800s, farmer Diego Pellicer, who owned one of the largest hemp farms in the Philippines, made products for the Spanish navy. Over a century later, his great-grandson, Jamen Shively, founded a dispensary with his partner, Doug Anderson, and named it in honor his great-grandfather.
The first dispensary in the Diego Pellicer chain opened on October 15, 2016, in Seattle. The second opened in Denver on February 14. According to Ron Throgmartin, CEO of Diego Pellicer Worldwide, six more locations are in the works.
Denver's newest dispensary, located at 2949 West Alameda Avenue, is operated by Neil Demers, who says he wanted to open a location with competitive prices but a high-end experience. Patrons enter the dispensary through a sliding glass door and entryway filled with flowers; an archway leads to the selling floor.
In a room filled with dark wood cabinetry, vases holding roses and large house plants, General Manager Daniel Pantaloe, wearing a suit and tie, approaches customers with a smile. This is not your usual dispensary experience.
"We wanted to have a high-end dispensary with competitive prices. I consider it an affordable luxury. We've got a much better customer-service experience," Demers says.
Before investing in Diego Pellicer's new location, Demers spent six years in the cannabis industry. After receiving his master's in finance from the University of Denver, he worked at a dispensary and an edibles company before starting the first staff-training company for the business: CannaStaff.
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"I ran it for two years, but I couldn't find enough talent back then. Everyone thought you just needed to smoke weed to get a job," he says.
His mother, grandmother and other family members all came to the February 14 opening, as did Alejandro Canto, owner of the Seattle location.
"The female crowd has had such an amazing reaction to the store," Canto says of his Seattle dispensary. "The store gives a sense of security to the consumer, and they feel comfortable shopping there. That's such an important thing when it comes to cannabis since we still have the stigma out there. We're trying to end that."
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Diego Pellicer is also opening two grow operations in Colorado. Louis Santillana, the company's lead grower, came to the opening with his dog, Echo. Santillana says he's focused on quality and keeping the product pesticide-free.
"We're trying to combine quality and quantity and find that balance, he says. "Usually when you get to a production level, you start to lose quality. People cut corners," he says.
There were no corners cut at this location, which Diego Pellicer bills as a $1 million makeover of the former home of VIP Cannabis, a dispensary suspected of funneling money from Colombia that was raided by federal authorities in November 2013; it was part of the largest-ever collection of raids against the state’s MMJ industry.
Today there are no hints of the building's past. Instead, you'll find an upscale interior and a low-cost deal: The new Diego Pellicer location is offering one 1/8th for $15 on every new customer's first three visits.