In King City, green is gold
A group of elderly women meet regularly for coffee in King City. They aren't there to quilt, or trade stories about their grandchildren, or play cards.
No, these women meet to talk about different cannabis products they've tried.
"They'll say, 'This is what works for me,' or 'I didn't like that one,'" said Janet Sosa, general manager of the Green Planet dispensary in King City.
She knows about this group because one of the members is a loyal customer.
Filling a niche
Green Planet opened last August, taking over a building next door to the King City City Hall and Police Department, which had previously housed a tax business. It is one of three Green Planet storefronts in the area, with the others located in Beaverton and Milwaukie.
Since opening, the dispensary has gained a loyal local following — especially among the city's large senior population.
"Our demographics are pretty unique compared to other dispensaries, because we're located where a retirement community is nearby," Sosa said. "We get a lot of customers who are elderly, or who maybe served in the war and have PTSD. So a lot of them come in for CBD products, mainly for items that will help them sleep, manage their pain, or find alternatives to their pills, narcotics."
Cannabis (commonly referred to as marijuana) can contain a range of chemical compounds, with the most well-known being Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). While THC generally causes a head and body high — the sensations cannabis is famous for — CBD is known to cause physical relaxation, and is thought to have many medicinal benefits, such as anxiety management and pain relief.
It's possible to consume cannabis products that have a high amount of CBD but little or no THC — meaning one can use the product without getting "high." These products are hugely popular among Green Planet's senior customers, Sosa said.
"We do have people who, you know, they just want to get high," she said. "But we have a substantial number of people who are here because they just finished surgery, and they don't want to go back on pills. It really is for pain management."
And thanks to the range of products available at Green Planet — cannabis-infused cookies, gummies, lotions, beverages and more — it's also possible to consume cannabis without smoking, and without the residual telltale smell. Sosa said that lavender-scented CBD vape pens are particularly popular among her customers.
"They're used to a certain scent of cannabis, but when you smell lavender, you're not going to think cannabis," she said.
Another sought-after product: Wyld Gummies, which include an all-CBD pomegranate flavor.
"On a daily basis, we hear, 'I don't want to take these pills anymore. I tried your gummies, and they work great for me,'" Sosa said. "So it's really rewarding to hear."
When Green Planet first opened its doors in King City, Sosa said it wasn't unusual for elderly customers to try to hide their faces as they entered — "almost like they're embarrassed to be here." But as word spread about the dispensary's wide range of CBD products and friendly staff, more and more senior customers visited, and fewer were afraid of the stigma.
Regular customers even have favorite employees, like Ben Lovelace. An army veteran with a Purple Heart, Lovelace started using CBD products to manage his joint pain, and to help him quit drinking. He said he'll use humor to help put new customers at ease, and that "the main thing is figuring out what they're looking for, or what they're trying to treat sometimes."
While Green Planet's staff is happy to suggest different strains or products to their customers, they have to walk a fine line between giving recommendations and prescribing products, which they are not qualified to do. When a customer comes in seeking a straightforward medical recommendation, employees will suggest they see a doctor.
"None of us are doctors or pharmacists, so we cannot diagnose or recommend treatment for it," Sosa said. "The best we can do is say, 'This is the product I tried, and this is the effect it had on me.'"
As Green Planet fills a niche, Sosa has noticed one gap in the market: it's hard for her to find low-sugar edibles that her senior customers with diabetes can enjoy.
"A lot of the vendors are really forgetting this population," she said. "At the end of the day, more research needs to be done to see which strains are better for certain ailments. And we're definitely not equipped to do that."
Following the rules
Not giving out medical advice is just one of many policies and regulations Green Planet must follow as a cannabis dispensary. In Oregon, dispensaries are governed by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), which has strict rules about labeling, packaging and sourcing products.
Sosa said that almost every day, her inventory managers will send a product back to its vendor because it fails to meet OLCC requirements.
"We're right next to the Police Department, so we do everything by the book," Sosa said with a laugh. "We can't afford not to."
In fact, Green Planet has interacted with the King City Police Department. When she opened the store last year, Sosa suspected one of her former employees of stealing products. She alerted the police, and handed over security camera footage to Officer Patrick Dean.
"He said, 'Most pot shops don't do this because they're afraid,'" Sosa recalled. "I said, 'We're doing everything by the law, so we have nothing to fear.'"
Dispensaries aren't allowed to give refunds for any cannabis products, something Green Planet tells its customers. But making sure folks get the products they want the first time — and don't consume anything they can't handle — is another "balancing act," as Sosa put it.
"It's hard to gauge how well-informed the customer is," she said. "We will read THC levels to customers if we think they maybe don't know what they're buying."
Sosa attended a Tigard Chamber of Commerce meeting earlier this year. She said that while "I knew initially there were a few businesses who were not super happy to have us," she felt more accepted after showing them that she is far from the token "stoner" character found in pop culture.
"I think it has to do more with stereotypes that people have grown up with," she said about the initial suspicion some community members had.
April 20, known colloquially as "4/20," is an unofficial holiday among cannabis enthusiasts. Green Planet obtained a permit from the city this year to hold a special 4/20 event outside of its business, and invited local business like Hall Pizza and Pub and Inca Brew Coffee Co. to sell their products — sans cannabis — as well.
While 4/20 is a special celebration, it's far from the only holiday Green Planet observes. Sosa's staff put up pumpkins during Halloween, a Christmas tree in December, and green balloons for St. Patrick's Day, in an effort to make the store look as friendly as possible.
And in February, Green Planet hosted an informational session with different vendors at the King City Civic Association's clubhouse, after being asked to do so by members of the King City Women's Golf Club. She said that between 75 and 100 people attended, and that she's working to secure a date for the next session.
"We found that very helpful for people, because they have a lot of questions," Sosa said.
Looking forward, Sosa said she will continue to stay on top of OLCC regulations, train her employees to be helpful and welcoming, and working with vendors to get the best products for her unusual customer base.
"The quality is coming up every single day, and the price is going down," she said about cannabis in Oregon. "We're here to help this industry grow and be transparent."