Soft pink and pot leaf-coated walls, bright open table displays, detailed ingredient lists; this is how shopping for weed should be. Situated in the heart of San Luis Obispo (SLO), Megan’s Organic Market takes great pride in serving its local community through high-quality cannabis products, warm, welcoming decor and friendly customer service. The once aspiring grocery store turned organic dispensary strives to be your one-stop marijuana shop in a comfortable, approachable setting.
“Our mission is to normalize cannabis use, so we worked hard to create a retail experience that feels like a friendly neighborhood market,” says co-owner and namesake Megan Souza. “We have an open product display layout, which allows customers to walk in, pick up a shopping basket, select products, put them in their basket, walk up to the checkout stand and pay, just like a regular store. You can read the ingredients, take your time and receive as much or as little budtender consultation as you like, in a cozy, non-intimidating environment. “
But this heart-warming weed haven didn’t sprout overnight. Beginning their journey as growers, Megan and her partner in life and business, Eric Powers, worked tirelessly for years to open not one, but two markets in the SLO area. Having opened their doors only a month ago, Megan’s shops have experienced stellar success, and they are excited to continue providing top-shelf cannabis to their surrounding community.
We sat down with Megan to learn more about her story and to hear how she built the dispensary of her dreams.
What was your first experience with cannabis?
I first tried cannabis the summer after my high school graduation. I felt instant and total relief from the debilitating anxiety that had defined my life up until that point. I’ve been a user ever since. My professional entry into the cannabis industry started with cultivation. Eric is a farmer by calling, and cannabis became his crop of choice.
What do you love most about weed and hemp?
I love everything about cannabis! For me, the biggest benefits of THC are its ability to melt away anxiety and stress, to enhance my focus and to make everything interesting.
What inspired you to open your own cannabis business?
It all started with wanderlust. Eric and I fantasized about a long road trip through Mexico and Central America, so we pulled endless double shifts at our serving jobs to save up. We bought a travel van, and then another travel van when that one broke down—but we never took the trip. Instead, Eric talked me into using our travel savings to start a business so we could have a chance at someday achieving financial independence and having a life of travel instead of just one grand trip.
Why a dispensary?
Our original vision was a specialty grocery store called Megan’s Organic Market. We did research, found a building and started to write a business plan that led us to our local chapter of SCORE. The [SCORE] business advisor we met with suggested that we abandon the idea, because grocery stores make terrible profit margins and because we had no relevant experience or skill sets. We took this advice to heart and pivoted our business plan to something we did have experience with: cannabis cultivation. Eric had been growing cannabis in our closet for personal use for years and his passion for farming in general had already led us to lease a small plot of land for growing vegetables. In addition to Eric’s green thumb, we had shared backgrounds in philosophy—we both have bachelor’s degrees in philosophy. This made us proficient at deciphering dense texts like case law, municipal code and state regulations. We immediately started educating ourselves about Proposition 215 (Medical Use of Marijuana Initiative or the Compassionate Use Act) and the legal and regulatory history of medical cannabis in California.
How did you get Megan’s Organic Market up and running?
Eric turned out to be a master cultivator, and our flower became highly sought after. I was still waiting tables and Eric had most of the cultivation duties covered, so it seemed like a good time for me to pursue another dream: graduate school. I applied to California Polytechnic State University and started a Master’s program in English. After a year of struggle, I concluded it was not for me, so I dropped out of grad school and started Megan’s Organic Market as a Prop 215 delivery service to complement our established cultivation business. It was an immediate success.
At some point, it became brick and mortar. How did you secure a retail space?
We operated our delivery service for five years until Prop 215 sunset [when licensing under the new system became required]. Once Prop 64 (The Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act) retail permits became available, we threw our hat in the ring and worked hard to influence local cannabis ordinances during their formation process so that dispensary permit applicants with a history of local and compliant cannabis retail operations would receive more points in the dispensary permit application evaluation process.
We officially opened our storefront dispensary on August 1, 2020 and were warmly welcomed by our community.
What sets your company apart from your competitors?
It was easy to distinguish ourselves from other Prop 215 retailers because, at that time, the industry was severely lacking professionalism and brand identity. We were the first retailer we knew of to post lab test results to demonstrate that our flower was free of pesticide and mold. We were also among the first to offer a wide variety of high-CBD/low-THC products. We also had an all-female delivery staff suited with handmade aprons and adorable picnic baskets full of little sample jars with artful labels. Our wholesome aesthetic, commitment to organic cultivation and wide CBD offering made us very appealing to seniors, new cannabis users, women and severely and terminally ill people. It was infinitely rewarding.
What products do you offer?
We carry all the typical things but also some unexpected ones, like infused olive oil, sriracha sauce, raw honey, face oil, bath salts, personal lubricant and massage oil.
Did you experience any unexpected obstacles, or victories, while launching Megan’s Market?
We continue to face unexpected obstacles in our pursuit of cannabis cultivation permits! It’s a constant battle against entrenched biases, bad actors in positions of power and a vocal minority in favor of total prohibition. One memorable example of an unexpected obstacle/victory is the time SLO County filed a lawsuit against us in an attempt to shut down our cannabis grow. Thankfully, the judge presiding over the case delivered a favorable verdict, so we were vindicated and allowed to continue cultivating. The most unexpected part of it all was that instead of bad press, we received an outpouring of support from our community. Being unfairly and aggressively targeted by our county government, it turns out, was good for business.
You expanded to open Megan’s CBD Market in Morro Bay, which focuses on CBD and hemp. What inspired you to do this?
Our hemp retail store, Megan’s CBD Market, came about because there was a time gap between the sunset of Proposition 215 and the availability of Proposition 64 permitting. We shut down our Prop 215 retail delivery service in November 2018 once we could no longer access compliant cannabis products. We then immediately opened our hemp retail store in order to keep some of our delivery service workers employed and to maintain connection to our customers while we pursued Prop 64 licensing. We continue to operate our hemp store because there’s an ever-growing demand for hemp-derived CBD. Some consumers are adamantly opposed to cannabis-derived CBD and some simply prefer not to pay the taxes that come with cannabis-derived CBD.
Opening during COVID must have been a bit of a challenge. How has your business adapted?
The added COVID compliance considerations are nothing compared to the cannabis compliance standards we’re beholden to, so it hasn’t been challenging. The most significant thing to happen to California cannabis retail during COVID is the Bureau of Cannabis Control allowing curbside pickup. This is an awesome opportunity, which I hope stays around after COVID.
Since starting your business, what have you learned about yourself?
I’m smarter and more capable than I knew—I think all of us are. Self-doubt is probably the biggest obstacle to entrepreneurship.
What advice do you have for anyone looking to open their own marijuana market?
Jump in head first. There are no books to read or classes to take to prepare you for being a cannabis entrepreneur. You just have to get in there and observe all the dynamic components firsthand to get a feel for how the industry functions and identify which part of it you can find your niche in. Also, be flexible. The landscape of the cannabis industry is constantly changing, so whatever vision you currently have will probably need to be abandoned or adapted to new realities or regulations.
What’s next for you? Any future plans to open more retail spaces?
Lots of exciting things are on the horizon, including more dispensary permit pursuits in other cities and the launch of some new cannabis product lines. Also, I’m looking forward to the establishment of the Appellation of Origin Program and the opportunity to help establish my area as a premier cannabis-producing region.
For more information visit: megansorganicmarket.com
Shop THC – megansslo.com
Shop CBD/Hemp – meganscbdmarket.com/shop
Follow – instagram.com/megansslo