There is one thing that separates marijuana dispensaries from Starbucks: one sells coffee, and the other marijuana. Actually, there are many more differences than that, but maybe there should be more similarities. For instance, one widely-cited statistic is that Denver is home to more dispensaries than Starbucks. While both dispensaries and coffee shops sell ritualized vice products, the experiences are worlds apart. The reason: there’s nothing to do while waiting in a dispensary.
Some dispensaries are better than others when it comes to waiting, although the emphasis is still on waiting. There are no arcade games in dispensary waiting rooms, it is not a library and there is limited seating. Granted, coffee shops are known for being hangouts whereas dispensaries are some sort of quasi-pharmacy/retail smoke shop. The problem is the popularity of cannabis coupled with the strictness of retail cannabis laws; it turns dispensary waiting rooms into de facto hangouts where no one can do anything but suppress yawns.
To put it into perspective, these gripes are based on personal experiences with waiting in dispensaries. This is certainly not the biggest problem the industry faces. In fact, it’s sort of like complaining about a line for a roller coaster; retail marijuana is like an attraction that brings people near and far to experience it.
Trips to the dispensary should be made in a state of Zen-like calmness; there’s no reason to get worked up over it. Still, the worst part of the wait is when someone else is impatient, and starts clucking their tongue and muttering obscenities while fidgeting in line. Some people can’t handle it when things don’t occur instantly. A typical dispensary wait time is in the ball park of 5 to 15 minutes, and even longer during peak hours.
Some dispensaries, such as Livegreen Cannabis near Sloane’s Lake, don’t allow cell phone usage in the waiting room. No Clash of Clans, no Simpson’s Tapped Out. Just hold a ticket and wait for the number to be called. There are usually copies of local alt-weeklies to read, but the content is full of dispensary advertisements that aren’t interesting to someone already sitting in a dispensary.
At least Livegreen is a nice dispensary, which is more than can be said for many. In spite of the lack of anything to do but wait, there is nice art on the walls. There is a TV mounted on the wall, and there’s usually some sort of electronic dance music playing. The same with Botanico, in the River North section of Denver. which also displays art on the walls of the waiting room, with soft music playing in the background.
What Botanico has that sets them apart is an “express line” for people looking for pre-rolled joints, or anything else simple and prepackaged. Then there are some dispensaries where the waiting room is just a line of customers snaking around those seatbelt-like ropes.
There are some waits at dispensaries that are better than others, like when the waiting room is filled with fascinated tourists. It gives the locals a sense of how people in the Amish country might feel, when everyday life becomes a spectacle to someone else. It usually goes well, until some local know-it-all starts filling their heads with bad information misremembered from some unknown source.
This log-jammed dispensary atmosphere could change as wholesale marijuana becomes available, and people can walk into a store and point to more prepackaged and branded products. But in the meantime, why not change waiting rooms into arcades or libraries or some other engaging atmosphere? Give the people who aren’t buying marijuana something to do, especially considering no one is allowed to shop unaccompanied anyway.
In fact, it’s the law of the land that binds a dispensary’s hands when it comes to the issue of waiting. According to pages 49–50 of the Colorado Department of Revenue Marijuana Enforcement Division’s “Permanent Rules Related to the Colorado Retail Marijuana Code,” marijuana can only be displayed in restricted access areas, and a licensed provider must escort customers into the area, to assist with the purchase.
As awesome as an arcade in a dispensary waiting room would be, it’s probably illegal thanks to the state of Colorado’s rules. The aforementioned MED document also prohibits marijuana dispensaries from selling consumable products that aren’t marijuana. Dispensaries can’t sell coffee, soda or video game sessions. If someone wants something to drink while at a dispensary, they had better hope there’s a drinking fountain … but that could mean stepping out of line. The laws ultimately prohibit the opening of Amsterdam-style cafes around Colorado.
Perhaps this problem of dispensary wait times, which is exacerbated by righteous fear of governmental reprisal over violating the strict state marijuana regulations and a tenuous federal permissiveness, shall give rise to more dispensaries adopting some sort of digital ordering technology. Kiosk systems like C4EverSystems, or perhaps apps for a mobile device.
Imagine the line to order on a touchscreen kiosk. Menus and specials perfectly visible from the back of the line to the kiosk. Then some guy comes out and calls the customer’s name or number when his order is ready. After ordering, the customer could be on his cell phone without holding anyone up. The dispensary process idealized would have the ordering up front, with the interior wait in the middle, concluded by the delivery of the order.
But in reality, even that’s a rosy scenario for what would likely happen. Looking at any solutions to this problem will invariably lead to a whole other set of problems that need to be solved. Caroline Cahill, managing editor of Marijuana Investor News, recently pointed out to me that touchscreen kiosks at the airport are often broken. Technology is not infallible, no matter how fancy the packaging. Computers and devices are susceptible to software bugs and system issues that can bring the whole process to a screeching halt if a computer somewhere crashes.
Public touchscreens are even less appealing in the age of the Ebola virus. No matter how many problems are solved, more problems will always manifest. But with problems, there’s always a silver lining. Inventors and entrepreneurs thrive on solving problems, and if all the problems get solved, there will be nothing to do. The economy depends on these problems, and thanks to legalization, there are more problems to solve and more money to be made.