Jane Stinson was no stranger to cannabis even before she opened Enlighten Alaska, one of Anchorage’s first legal cannabis retail shops.
A self-proclaimed “hippie,” Jane had been a fan of cannabis as a recreational user since the 1960s, although she took a twenty-year break to raise her children.
But when her mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor, she felt called to help make cannabis available for people who needed it for medical purposes.
Navigating a winding path to legalization
“My kids and I had been going to these little secret cannabis meetings that people were having because cannabis was very, very underground in Alaska at that time,” Jane said. “It’s crazy how it went from underground to above ground in just a matter of years.”
Alaska’s path to a legal adult-use cannabis market was a long one, with decriminalization followed by recriminalization – and back again. But in 2014, Alaska Measure 2 passed and went into effect on February 24, 2015, finally legalizing cannabis for adult use.
“I had retired, my daughter had just graduated from college, and my son had gotten experience growing cannabis in California, so we knew we wanted to take the leap into the industry. The stars were aligned,” Jane said.
Jane met with Greta Carter of Highroad in April 2015. Greta was in Alaska giving a talk on how to enter the application process.
“We relied heavily on the information we got from Greta. And in retrospect it was really, really important that we got started when we did. Greta being there and helping us get the ball rolling was a huge part of our success,” said Jane.
Securing a seat at the regulatory table
Cannabis entrepreneurs in new, competitive markets can sometimes participate in the process of designing the rules that govern cannabis in their jurisdictions. Greta and the Highroad team have demonstrated expertise in helping regulatory agencies develop smart rules that encourage cannabis companies to operate in profitable compliance.
“We were able to participate in putting together the regulations in Alaska, and I mean specific, fundamental regulations like how much THC you can have in a product,” Jane said. “We grew important relationships with the city, state and the municipality. We were a part of the decision-making process, so we felt more comfortable going into this regulatory environment because we helped put it together.”
With Greta's assistance, Jane’s team was able to influence both city and state regulatory agencies because they had a head start. "For instance, we helped on the tax structure. The City of Anchorage didn’t know how or what to tax. They didn’t know if they should tax seeds or even if seeds were going to be sold at all. So, we went in to talk to them about it. That’s the kind of upfront work that we did. We helped them understand how marijuana works so that they could plug it into the ‘city system,’ or the money generating system,” she said.
Hard work and a little luck
Jane originally looked for real estate that would support an operation with combined cannabis cultivation, retail and manufacturing license types in Alaska, but they just happened to find a perfect retail space first. So that’s where they started.
“Diving right into retail made a big difference, because if we had started with cultivation, I don’t know that we would have survived,” Jane said. Her hunch sounds correct based on what Highroad has observed as new cannabis markets have matured – an eventual glut of product produced by eager growers often leads to sharp drops in cannabis prices followed by potentially catastrophic slowdowns for cultivation businesses.
Details matter, but just go for it
Jane’s advice to prospective cannabis entrepreneurs?
“Don’t be afraid, just go for it, it’s legal now and you can do this. There’s no reason that you can’t do this,” she said.
She does note that the Enlighten team was surprised how important the city planning and construction components of the project turned out to be.
“Working with the planners was an arduous process to get through, but if you have someone on your team who knows how to navigate it, that’s an added plus, I think,” Jane added.
Highroad has built a deep base of knowledge of all facets of starting and running a cannabis business, including construction requirements.
“Thanks to Greta’s team, we were the first retail shop to get licensed in Anchorage. And we were the second to open our stores for business in February of 2017. As of February 2019 we have two years of business in Anchorage with no serious problems,” Jane said.
Enlighten is up and running and serves about 250 cannabis customers a day.
Click here to watch a conversation between Greta and Jane, or send us a note to get started with Highroad on your journey in the cannabis industry.