Missouri voters legalized recreational marijuana earlier this month, making our state among the 21 (plus D.C.) in the country to legalize marijuana for adults over 21.

After medical marijuana was legalized in Missouri in 2018, and licenses were subsequently awarded in 2019, we worked with our clients to expeditiously build out dispensaries designed for medical marijuana before the state’s deadline.

Now that marijuana has “gone rec” in Missouri, we’ve been fielding calls about potential next steps on construction as we await specific guidance from The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, which is responsible for overseeing this new industry and the licensing process. The newly formed Division of Cannabis Regulation is now accepting and considering public input on how the new law should be implemented across the state.

We are recommending that our clients do not start designing their space until that guidance is released. We don’t yet know what the requirements will be around the layout of dispensaries, and if there will be any mandates around separating medical sales from recreational sales.

But that doesn’t mean we should ignore what’s coming. While we wait, here are a few key areas to consider…. use this as a starting point for ideas, consult with your general contractor about what’s feasible, and bring ideas to your architect once guidance becomes available.

  1. Research: We’re not among the first states to legalize recreational marijuana. Spend some time researching how other dispensary owners have altered their space for rec. There are gorgeous pictures online of upscale dispensaries brimming with style. Talk to dispensary owners in states with rec to learn best practices. Use this waiting time to gather your wish list of how you’d like your space to work for you. Start looking for general contractors in your area that specialize in not just dispensary construction but also retail construction.

  2. Efficiency: Dispensary operators in Missouri have been open for a couple of years now, and that’s enough time to determine what changes are needed for your business run more smoothly. Think about what’s working and what isn’t and anticipate what’s ahead. For example, do you have enough registers to handle your current and future client base? Do you have a space if you’d like to add kiosks for education and/or menu displays? Do you have a separate area for customers to pick up their online orders? Start thinking about how you can best utilize your existing space to increase efficiencies.

  3. Think Jewelry Stores: High-end jewelry stores are known for sparkly gems, clean designs, bright lighting, and dependable security. We see recreational marijuana moving in this direction. You’ll want your storefront to be welcoming – inviting your customers to learn more all while feeling safe during the buying process. They want to feel free to ask questions privately (think of a pharmacist window), and they don’t want to feel like they’re there for a drug deal. The display cases should be gleaming and beautiful. Any refrigerators to hold product should be quiet and upscale. If you choose to go rec, your client base will expand almost overnight, and you’ll need to cater to a much wider audience. This is no longer the stoner culture of yesteryear; expect businesspeople, older adults, college students and more. They all need to feel secure and comfortable.

  4. Consultative Spaces: Consultation areas were popular when marijuana was purchased solely for medical purposes. Patients needed to discuss their conditions and determine the appropriate product and dosage to suit their needs. With rec, license holders might find that they no longer require those spaces or perhaps they want to repurpose that space for educational programming. Think about your expected clientele and what needs they might have before, during and after purchasing.

  5. Front area/Lobby: Cannabis dispensaries around Missouri are already rethinking their entrance design for this upcoming change. Almost certainly there will need to be a space for checking customers in – from recording their driver’s license to pulling up their purchase history. This is something to start thinking about now- do you have a holding area for your clients? A vestibule for temperature control? Do you have enough desks by the front door for check ins? How can you engage your customers while they are waiting – can you teach them something about your product, or sell branded merchandise?

  6. Additional Business: Current and future license holders should be expecting an increase in business moving forward. Is your space prepared for that additional customer base? What changes do you need to make to be prepared? Is your safe large enough to handle the additional inventory? What about your trash set-up? Is your signage noticeable enough to grab the attention of passersby? Are the finishes you initially installed durable enough to handle the additional foot traffic?

  7. The Wow Factor: What extra touches can you offer to make your brand and the experience at your dispensary really stand out? Is there a signature aroma? How can the space feel warm and approachable, especially for people who are new to your products and curious? Is there a theme you can play on? Do you have an Instagram-able spot? Within the regulatory limits, there is still plenty of room for creativity. Brainstorm how your brand can stand out from the crowd, and ways you can make the purchasing experience amazing for your customers. This is now “retail with restrictions”, so you’ll need to think outside the box.

  8. Flexibility: Change is always a constant, but even more so in a budding industry. The guidance we see from DHSS will undoubtedly change over time. Design and build your space with flexibility in mind, so you don’t have to start from the drawing board each time the rules change.

  9. New Space: The final consideration is the biggest one. You need to have a very honest conversation with yourself and your investors to determine if the space you have is sufficient for the next chapter of this industry. Making the jump from medical marijuana to recreational marijuana is a big one, and if you were fortunate enough to be among the initial license holders and decide to go for a comprehensive sale permit, you want to ensure your space is ready for the opportunity. For instance, are you in a space where you can expand if needed? Is parking a hassle? Are you in a prime location or is it time to look for a new one?

In any industry, first-mover advantage is well-documented. With cannabis in Missouri, we’ve seen already the unmatched loyalty that customers are showing after their first positive experience. When a customer finds you first, builds a trusting relationship with their budtender, and feels safe and comfortable, they will keep coming back – even going out of their way to continue purchasing from you. Be ready to capitalize on this unique aspect of the industry.

Recreational marijuana is now a legal and legitimate business venture in the state of Missouri. As a dispensary owner, you have the opportunity – and even responsibility – to uplevel your space to ensure the comfort level of a brand-new clientele. Reach out if we can be of assistance.