The Mint Dispensary has launched a contest in search of the best cannabis-infused creations.
This is one of many things the medical marijuana dispensary has done to distinguish itself from the other legal peddlers of medical greenery out there.
Raul Molina, a Peoria resident and chief operating officer and co-founder of The Mint Dispensary, said the industry has grown since his first Arizona location in Guadalupe opened in 2016, expanding from 3,000 square feet to 12,000 square feet to include a kitchen and cultivation. The company has since opened a location in Mesa and expanded the brand to other states.
Mr. Molina said the demand for fresh and healthy cannabis-infused foods is skyrocketing as patients seek infused foods with less sugar to help them battle a variety of illnesses.
At the same time, many cannabis connoisseurs are stuck at home due to COVID-19, where they are spending more time cooking, baking, and experimenting with food.
“We look forward to seeing the recipes and creativity from medical marijuana cardholders across the state,” Mr. Molina said “These out-of-the-box recipes have the potential to not only be featured in our cannabis kitchen, but also to help other Arizona patients as they battle illnesses ranging from cancer and epilepsy to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.”
Independent Newsmedia interviewed Mr. Molina about his journey in the medical marijuana industry. Get to know him better here.
Question: How long have you lived in Arizona?
Answer: I have lived in Arizona since 1991.
Q: How long have you lived in Peoria?
A: I have lived in Peoria since 2015.
Q: What does living in Peoria mean to you?
A: I love Peoria!!! I moved from Arcadia to Peoria to take advantage of the great schools, the awesome community engagement and my mother, sisters and brothers all live here. Peoria is home!
Q: How did you get into the medical marijuana business?
A: When we first looked to enter the industry, we had the intention of buying into it by looking at licenses that were on the market at the time. Licenses were going for $2 million to $3 million a license in early 2016. We changed our strategy when the state of Arizona announced that it would be allocating 31 more licenses and decided to apply for these 31 licenses instead of buying. In July 2016, we turned in 20 applications to different locations throughout Arizona. We learned that more than 750 applications were turned in for a shot at 31 licenses. In October 2016, when we learned that we were successful in getting 2 of our 20 applications approved, the Mint Dispensary was born. We were founded in 2016, but officially opened our first retail location in Guadalupe on March 15, 2017. Our Mesa location opened in February 2018. In October 2018, we embarked on a $2 million expansion of our Guadalupe dispensary, and introduced the first cannabis kitchen of its kind in the country inside the Guadalupe location. This made our Guadalupe location the largest medical marijuana dispensary in the state of Arizona and the third largest medical marijuana dispensary in the country.
Q: How would you describe the growth of the medical marijuana industry in the Valley?
A: When we were preparing to open our first location in Guadalupe, industry people told us that we would not see 100 patients a day until the six-month point. We were able to see 100 patients a day within the first two weeks of opening. Within the first 20 days, we were seeing 250 patients a day. That was one of our first major milestones. It was also incredibly rewarding to expand Guadalupe from 3,000 square feet to 12,000 square feet, to include the kitchen and cultivation, and then to open Mesa, and now to expand the brand to other states.
Q: How the stigma of medical marijuana changed over the years?
A: Cannabis was an immature market back in 2016, when we decided to enter the industry. We knew that we could make a change to the industry to help get it to where it is today – from the marketing and merchandising to the professionalism. We knew we could do our part to help elevate the cannabis industry, to make it larger than what we saw in 2016.
When we first started in the industry, medical marijuana dispensaries were referred to negatively as “pot shops” and many cities did not want to have a dispensary operating in their town. We have succeeded in that we helped to normalize the industry – we found a way to help make cannabis more of a normal, respected business. We helped to make it more mainstream and make it more acceptable within society. And we are seeing this reflected in how medical marijuana dispensaries were deemed pharmacies and essential businesses in Arizona when COVID-19 hit. We are also seeing it in the polls, in that 65%-70% of people in Arizona are in favor of adult-use cannabis.
Q: Who is the typical Mint Dispensary patient?
A: Broadly looking at our patients, they are certainly not who most people would expect to see in a dispensary. They are all ages and come from all walks of life – from general laborers to professionals, including doctors and lawyers. We initially anticipated that patients would be in the 21- to 35-year-old range, but they are more likely to be Baby Boomers or seniors. Patients could have anything from cancer, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s Disease, or even be a Veteran battling PTSD. This means we need to carry a wide range of products to meet their individual needs.
Q: What sets Mint apart from other dispensaries?
A: We operate the largest dispensary in the state of Arizona (in Guadalupe); it is the third largest dispensary in the country. We introduced the nation’s first cannabis kitchen of its kind in 2018 at our Guadalupe dispensary. At the kitchen, patients seeking relief through medicinal cannabis can purchase freshly prepared, cannabis-infused meals created by professional chefs. Our state-ofthe- art commercial kitchen offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner options in addition to snacks. While pre-packaged, shelf-stable food items have been available at dispensaries for some time, we are able to give patients access to fresh foods that are prepared on site with a customized dose of cannabis. We know that the right kinds of healthy foods can help people to battle a variety of illnesses, from cancer and epilepsy to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. We are using our knowledge about food and nutrition to help patients in their search for fresh, healthy snacks and infused meals that they can enjoy at home. The Mint Café offers a complete menu of artisan burgers, chicken wraps, macaroni and cheese, pizza, and other delicious cannabis- infused meals that patients can order to-go.
We have a very broad selection of products; we carry more than 7,5000 items in our dispensaries. We want to be able to make sure we provide the right medicine and the right doses to everyone. It is also important for the medicine to be priced according-ly, and for the range of products to be offered, from a more economic product to a higher-end project.
Q: How is your business adjusting to the pandemic? Have you changed your business model?
A: The business has actually increased some. Sales increased 60% for the first two weeks of the virus, then came down a bit, but we still have maintained about a 25% increase. With more folks staying at home, and the idea that cannabis helps patients strengthen their immune system and improve their mental and physical health, we have become popular. Following the guidance from the CDC, we are increasing the frequency of cleaning and sanitizing at our locations. We are also making additional efforts to disinfect high-traffi c and high-touch areas like door handles, counters, glass, and bathrooms, as well as reminding everyone to do their part by washing their hands even more frequently. We are proactively limiting the number of patients in the dispensary at any given time, creating a distance between patients in line, and are ensuring that all our budtenders wear gloves. Hand sanitizer is also available at every checkout for our employees and patients to use. As a community, it is in our collective best interest to help those who are 60+ and those who are immune compromised to avoid prolonged public exposure while the coronavirus is active in Arizona. We have created a special line for these patients, allowing them to get their medicine quickly.
As social distancing becomes a way of life, we have found some fun ways to help patients combat boredom and the blues. We have held several online events from a virtual job fair to social media drawings and daily bingo games.
We have been focusing on ways that we can provide even more convenience to customers. We recently received approval to build a curbside drive-thru at our Guadalupe dispensary. We started construction this week and aim to open the drive-thru in the next 30 days.
Q: How has the industry changed since the pandemic?
A: It was a big stride for the industry to have medical marijuana dispensaries deemed pharmacies and essential businesses in Arizona when COVID-19 hit. It felt good to be deemed essential. To see how much we have grown as an industry, to go from people getting arrested if they had flower with them to being allowed to break the stay at home order if they were getting their essential cannabis medicine is pretty remarkable.
With some people still quarantining and social distancing in effect, patients are looking to stock up on their medicine, so we created bulk deals on the products we sell so that patients may take advantage.
Other things we noticed during the coronavirus spike was that Arizona is not ready for recreational sales! In just two weeks of higher sales on flower and products, we had a hard time sourcing flower and product. The farms just were not able to keep up.
Q: How do you envision the medical marijuana and the recreational marijuana business in our community in the coming years?
A: I imagine there will be a lot more involvement between the industry and Peoria. As the taboo wears off and cannabis becomes more mainstream, I think collaborations between government, charitable organizations and the industry will help solidify the arrival of cannabis to the market. What I do not envision is cannabis being sold on every corner, like liquor. I genuinely believe we are decades from anything like that, if ever.
Philip Haldiman can be reached at 623-876-3697, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ philiphaldiman.