There are about 30 medical marijuana dispensaries in the city of San Francisco, though you might not know it to walk by them. With names like Shambhala Healing Center and Mission Organic, you’d be forgiven for thinking that some of these discreet storefronts are spas or health-food stores. Others, like SPARC and Apothecarium, might be mistaken for high-end boutiques.
Each dispensary takes its branding very seriously. While some choose to play into weed’s traditional iconography (bright colors, Bob Marley on the stereo), others project a more sophisticated image while reaching for an upscale clientele.
“We wanted to create a dispensary that our mothers and grandmothers would be not only comfortable being members of, but would be proud to refer their friends as well,” Ryan Hudson, cofounder of Apothecarium, tells Fast Company. With its Victorian-style printed wallpaper, chandelier, and freshly cut flowers, your grandmother would probably feel at home at Apothecarium–especially if she’s a design freak who counts Wes Anderson and The Addams Family as influences.
So, naturally, does the bottom line. Citing data from the city’s controller’s office, a 2012 East Bay Express article reported an estimated $41 million in annual marijuana sales by SF dispensaries, based on tax figures from 2011. A more recent report from USA Today noted that venture capitalists have begun sniffing around the pot industry, a sure sign that there’s green in all that green. The inevitable “Uber for Pot” companies like Eaze (touting a recent $10 million round of funding, including from a backer known as Snoop) and Meadow have already sprouted up.
SPARC, located in the startup-thick Soma neighborhood, is primed for the tech crowd with its austere, modern decor that calls to mind an Apple Store, a comparison most articles (including this one from Fast Company) about the award-winning storefront make sure to mention. “Part of SPARC’s mission is to change the perception of what people assume a medical cannabis dispensary to be like, and we’ve been successful at that,” Robert Jacob, SPARC’s executive director, said in a statement. “If you walk into any other business, whether it’s a restaurant or food-service business, they put a lot into the atmosphere and customer service. SPARC does the same.”
To purchase medical marijuana from a dispensary, you’ll need to establish California residency and come armed with a prescription from a doctor. You’ll also need to fill out some paperwork and become a member: casual browsing and green-nosed gawkers are not welcome.
Or you can visit the intriguing shops by checking out the above photos, taken recently inside three bustling dispensaries: Apothecarium, Barbary Coast, and Sparc. And that way you can even linger as long as you like!