On Eve of First 4/20, Washington Marijuana Stores Looking to Lure Big Crowds

By Tony C. Dreibus

Cannabis shops in Washington State are rolling out the red carpet for consumers looking to take part in the first 4/20 celebrations since recreational marijuana became legal in the state last summer.

Store owners anticipate a very profitable weekend ahead of April 20 – the actual “holiday” falls on a Monday this year – and plan to add staff, stock more product than usual and increase advertising.

More locals will likely visit cannabis shops as they celebrate the occasion, but Washington’s cannabis industry could see an even bigger boost from tourists if the nation’s other rec market, Colorado, is any indication.

Denver hotel bookings are expected to jump for a second straight year as people flock to the Mile High City to celebrate the unofficial holiday. James Aragon – a sales representative at My 420 Tours, which takes visitors to Denver’s marijuana shops, grows and ancillary businesses – said bookings for this weekend have been “through the roof.” The company even had to partner with a third cannabis-friendly hotel after the first two sold out quickly.

Discounts, Drawings & Live Music

Businesses in Washington are bracing for a similar uptick.

Ian Eisenberg, the owner of Uncle Ike’s recreational shop in Seattle, said he increased staffing by 25% in anticipation of the crowds expected to flock to the store this weekend. The shop will offer sales – including half-off some flowers and edibles – raffle drawings for a $250 Stax bong and two vaporizers, and T-shirt giveaways. Growers also will be on hand to educate consumers about how cannabis is cultivated, he said.

With it being Washington state’s first April 20 since recreational sales began on July 1 last year, Eisenberg said he doesn’t know how many people will come in, but hopes for a good showing.

“We really don’t know what to expect,” he said. “I imagine an otherwise slow Monday will be like a good Saturday.”

Steve Lane, a part of the marketing team at Greenside Recreational in Des Moines, Washington, said he’s been trying to get the word out about the company’s 4/20 plans: price specials on flower and edibles, live music and food for three days through Monday.

But it hasn’t been easy, as rec shops are hamstrung by strict regulations on where and how they can advertise. The shop has billboards going up this week and is spreading its message through social media and word-of-mouth.

Greenside is near SeaTac Airport, so Lane expects to see a lot of tourists stop by the shop ahead of and on April 20.

“We get a lot of first-timers here anyway so with the holiday we’re going to see an increase,” he said. Being open this year for 4/20 “is very exciting. We’re putting all of our efforts into it.”

Bracing for the Crowds

Colorado retailers that experienced the 4/20 rush last year – and are regarded as grizzled veterans in the recreational cannabis industry – said businesses in Washington need to stock up on popular products, prepare for throngs of tourists wanting to take part in the celebrations and educate first-timers on how to consume responsibly.

Long lines, robust sales and a party atmosphere defined last year’s 4/20 celebration in Colorado, said Lauren Hoover, the marketing manager at The Backcountry Cannabis Company, formerly the Breckenridge Cannabis Club, which rebranded after opening a second retail outlet in Crested Butte.

Denver, as usual, is going all out with concerts, gatherings and other events running throughout the weekend. One difference, however, is that businesses will no longer be allowed to give away free samples at the Cannabis Cup, according to an April 3 bulletin from Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division. That will definitely put a damper on the annual event held by High Times, Hoover said.

“Not a lot of companies aren’t going to the” Cannabis Cup because of the bulletin, she said, so it could be less exciting for businesses than it was last year. The Denver Post reported that at least one business has tried to sell its booth, and that the event experience will change for customers who spent $45 on tickets expecting to get freebies.

The Importance of Education

With so many tourists around, both Colorado and Washington shops need to educate first-timers and those with little experience consuming cannabis about proper dosage, Hoover said. This is especially important because stories about people getting sick from over-consumption could give the industry a black eye.

“There are a lot of people from out of state – a lot more tourists on 4/20 because people want to be somewhere where it’s legal,” she said. “Just remember to recommend people drink a lot of water and take it easy. Just make sure to tell everybody to consume responsibly and have fun.”

One event where over-consumption likely won’t be a problem is at Cannabis Corner in North Bonneville, Washington, the only municipally owned recreational shop in the U.S., and possibly the world. The store, celebrating its grand opening on April 20, will play host on Monday to the monthly event night for the Skamania County Chamber of Commerce, North Bonneville Mayor Don Stevens said.

The idea is to give area businesses a look at the rec shop so they know what goes on there, and to dispel any myths other business owners may have about the store, which has been open for about a month.

The Chamber of Commerce event aside, the store will likely have its best Monday since it opened in March, Stevens said.

“This 4/20 thing has taken on a life of its own, so we’re hopeful we’ll have a big crowd and a busy day,” he said. “It should be a full day of fun for everybody.”

Tony C. Dreibus can be reached at Tonyd@mjbizmedia.com