October 26, 2019

Shop Spotlight: A Conversation with New Amsterdam Naturals

Los Angeles dispensary chats with Fred & Jane about how legal cannabis has impacted the space, and the shape of things to come.

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Cannabis is coming on up, and not just in terms of its popularity. The industry is in a major period of growth, as the social stigma surrounding its use evaporates in tandem with the legislation outlawing its consumption in a rapidly-growing number of states. And now that the non-psychoactive CBD has been steadily changing hearts and minds thanks to its numerous health benefits having nothing at all to do with getting high, the nation has really started to come around on cannabis.

At this point, weed has been fully legalized for recreational use by anyone 21 years old and over in 11 states…and it’s nice and simple to pick up with an easily-obtained medical license in 28 others. Though it’s unlikely the federal government will ever fully legalize marijuana, its decision to give the go-ahead on hemp at the end of 2018 opened up the national market to CBD products in a major way. And while CBD can be made from either hemp or cannabis, the three terms are linked inextricably enough in the collective national consciousness that a change in opinion about one of them undoubtedly impacts the other two, as well.

Here in California, the legal, recreational cannabis market is still very much in the process of figuring itself out. Growing pains take the form of just about everything from customers irritated with how the laws they voted into place are impacting their buying experience, to the tension between dispensaries making the transition from pre-ICO operation to a recreational storefront and those that waited to spring up until after the proverbial wall came down. The hurdles facing a dispensary open prior to 2018 and looking to stay above board post-legalization have certainly been interesting ones, especially when coupled with the challenges posed by a still-thriving ecosystem of deli-style black market dispensaries, flaunting the newly-placed safety regulations and staying open despite regulations that should dictate the contrary.

Of course, there’s something to be said for this kind of “fuck the man” vibe: It certainly isn’t there on accident, and it’s certainly not new to the culture at large. After all, isn’t it exactly this type of attitude upon which the legalization movement was built? Cannabis consumers have always had something of a punk rock streak when it comes to their approach to the rules, but the advent of the legalized marketplace — and the influx of new products and product types that has come with it — has made it clear that in the name of safety and sensibility…it’s time for us to grow up a bit. It’s easy enough to scoff at the idea of paying close to 40% in taxes at a recreational shop when the black market storefront seems to have the same products for cheaper, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

Legally operating recreational storefronts are spending more money and putting more effort into their products, all in the name of providing consumers with safer products; it’s as simple as that. Despite what can certainly be seen as some initial growing pains, the legal cannabis market is poised to usher in a new era of safer, healthier, and more rewarding cannabis consumption…if only we’ll let it.

We sat down with Kayla Vincent, Store Manager of New Amsterdam Naturals in Culver City, California. Not only did she have some fascinating knowledge to drop about how to be a safe and careful cannabis consumer, but she painted a pretty interesting portrait of what it’s like to help shape a booming marketplace, still in its earliest stages.

What was it like to transition to a recreational storefront?

We were one of the first few, in 2018, to get the license for recreational use. So the first transition was a little bit rough, just because we didn’t have everything available and compliant (for the first couple of days, anyway). Our competitors like Med Men had a lot more money invested in them, to kind of jump the gun on stuff like that.

What did that entail? What did you have to do?

Like, packaging and stuff. [Places like Med Men] weren’t open before 2018. They didn’t have a legal pre-ICO, meaning everything they had to sell, they were prepared for recreation. So they came in, full force, with fully recreational items. They were ready, Day One. But we were kind of a couple of minutes late. We had to get packaging set up, properly. Stuff like that.

What had to change, in terms of packaging?

I’m sure you remember how it was when you were coming in here. It was just kind of a deli-style place. You pick what you want, we weigh it out for you in whatever increments, we put it in a ziplock bag for you, put it in a paper bag, and you walked out.

I personally had a rude awakening when I came in here, and the guy was like, it costs a million more dollars now! And also only in eighths.

Oh, yeah. It was a major shock, a lot of customers walking in, January 1st, 2018, and it was not what they walked into on New Year’s Eve. It was totally different. And so everything they’re used to: free market, come get what you want, pick it out, they let you smell it. Big old pickle jars of weed you could pick out. And now everything is pre-packaged. People were pissed. They were very angry.

A lot of people didn’t bother to renew their rec for the new year: “Well, I don’t need it!” But by not having that recommendation, you walk into a 34.5% tax. That’s what you have to pay! That’s the written law, we have to abide by that. But that shocked a lot of people, shook them. They didn’t want to come back to the legal market for a while.

Almost all recreational shops — not just ours — all recreational shops took a hit in the new year, because the black market was still thriving, still operating with the same price points, no tax, deli style weighing out…

So that’s driven a lot of people to the black market, because they obviously don’t want to pay the tax prices. They don’t like the whole idea of pre-packaging. They don’t care about paying the extra price for having properly lab-tested products. Even though that is a very vital thing, especially with the new vape scare.

Now, a lot of people are coming back because they want to buy their vapes here. Hundreds of people that I used to know as regulars had disappeared for well over six months to a year, and are coming back now, noticeably. Especially since the vape scare, they’re coming in to buy vape products.

Talk to me about the benefits of having testing and safety compliance.

Well, lab testing and all this, it’s what everyone voted on. This is supposed to be what everyone’s in favor of. But there are a shocking amount of people who don’t care what that costs. They wanted it, but they don’t want to pay for what that entails. Lab testing for cannabis is a really hard process, and that’s reflected in a lot of products, especially vapes now. Just lab testing in general, it’s a slow process.

When the law originally changed, there were only five, in the entire state, compliant labs where you could test. There was an influx of people, like us, trying to get all their products into that place, lab tested, and brought back. But in the entire state of CA, with all the dispensaries who are legal? That’s not enough. That’s not enough to lab test everything, not enough to get it out. So there was an extreme shortage of cannabis at the beginning of 2018. They’re only legally allowed to test however many products a day; it’s pretty limited to what they’re allowed to do every day. So it’s not like they’re allowed to be there from 10 to 10, all day, just lab testing as many things as they can. There’s a number of units that they can test per day, and that’s it.

Everything we have is lab-tested. We can’t carry anything without a certificate of analysis. Anything that has cannabis in it has to have pesticide testing. We have to show what terpenes are active inside of each plant. And then if it’s an edible or something like that, however many milligrams is inside has to be proven and consistent throughout the entire edible.

You only have two lungs, so I whatever it’s worth to you is what it is to you. I don’t care if you want to ruin your body. You should care about your body. And it’s not just what you’re smoking or vaping, it’s what you’re eating, too. You don’t know what you’re eating with these edibles. So these edibles that tell you nothing about them, they list very minimal ingredients…they don’t tell you what kind of cannabis extract it is, they just say “cannabis extract.” What is “cannabis extract?” That can be butter, that can be oil, that can be distillate. Who knows?

Made from who knows what weed?

Yeah, and everything here is sourced. You can source everything here, back to when the weed they used to make the edibles was harvested. You can go very far back. It’s produce. You should be able to track it all back [to its source].

And people are realizing that it is produce. So a lot of the companies are going back to sun-grown products, and outdoor growing. It’s going to be a big market for it now, and we’re going to be able to sell it in mass quantities to the public. A lot of the outdoor stigma has kind of left. It’s not as hated-on as it was before.

What do you think comes next? What’s next in line for this space?

The legal market for cannabis is trying hard not to get blanketed in with the illegal market. Or tobacco. I can’t even sell blunts here. I can’t sell anything like that here. I have hemp wraps.

The two things to worry about are Vitamin E and propylene glycol. If they can assure you and show you they don’t have those, it’s fine. All the cartridges we have, have a CA certificate of analysis. That’ll prevent you from smoking metals and things like that. They’ve changed the cartridges and what you’re allowed to vape with 100 times, now. So I feel like we’ve gotten where we’re supposed to be, with cartridges that are safe. A lot of cartridges that people are getting from the black market in China are full of lead, very bad, all of those things.

Once we figure out the whole cartridge situation, then we can move from there. There’s a new system that the cannabis industry has moved towards, called the Metrc System. It’s more of a CA government regulated process. It’s a trace-and-track system that’s better than what’s now being implemented. So that’s the next step, right now. We’re still in transition to the next step of cannabis. It’s going to be this strict, very compliance-oriented, grocery store type of experience. It’s moving that way within the next six months. It’s going to be even more regulated than it was before.

Regulation is the name of the game. Everything has a label, with an ingredients list.

Yeah, and like I said — we went from serving people who wanted to involve themselves in the cannabis industry when it was strictly medical…and now we have people traveling here from other countries, and other states, just for the weekend. Just to smoke weed for the weekend. We have people from everywhere coming here. Everything has to be completely safe. It needs to be.

We worked so hard to get where we are, we’re not trying to fuck it up by getting you sick. It’s the worst thing that could happen to us. It’d be the most confusing thing that could happen to us, as well. No one should get sick from this. We’re trying very hard to keep it clean, and keep it safe. That’s where the industry’s going. And they want that track-and-trace thing to be implemented, to make sure all sourcing is proper. It’s just getting tighter, and in my opinion, getting safer by the day.

Working went from under the table…it was volunteering, before. The language has changed. Now, I work here. I have a W-4. I pay taxes. I legally have a job, now. I’m the store manager of this place, not like “Shhh, I’m the manager.” I fucking work here. We’re upstanding citizens, now! [laughter]

It’s just getting better for everyone. On your side and my side.

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