Very few cannabis producers in Washington’s adult-use market are focused on the needs of medical patients, because most consumers are recreational users, but Wendy Buck believes it’s a “Field of Dreams” situation: “I 100% believe that if you build it, they will come.”
Buck, who spent 17 years as an emergency room nurse, co-owns the cannabis retail shop Sparket with her husband, Nicholas Benge. They co-founded the company in Port Angeles, Washington, in 2013 and at one point, Buck says, Sparket was the only shop in the state to have a medical dispensary and an adult-use store under the same roof, side by side, divided by a common wall. Although Washington underwent a major regulatory change in 2016, forcing all unlicensed medical dispensaries to close or transition to the rec market, Buck has continued to be an outspoken advocate for medical patients.
“I went down to the Liquor Control Board and said these are two completely different markets with two completely different sets of needs,” she says. “The problem is that medical patients don’t want to get high. They want to function.”
Washington’s ban on vertical integration has also prevented her from creating customized products for medical patients the way she did in the old days.
However, Sparket has survived in a highly competitive market and was named the region’s best cannabis store by the Peninsula Daily News in 2020. One of the big challenges has been that neither Buck nor Benge were businesspeople before starting Sparket, so they’ve been learning on the fly for more than seven years. A move several years ago got Sparket out of a bad lease situation and possibly saved the company. And though hiring and firing were initially hard for the couple, they’ve assembled a stellar crew to handle all the details of the retail operation.
“One of the toughest things about being an employer is learning how to be a good leader,” Buck says, commending her staff for allowing her to spend more time away from the shop. “These people are a blessing.”
General manager Naomi Blodgett, in particular, has been a “godsend.”
“She’s been instrumental in our success,” Buck says.
One of the distinctive design elements of Sparket is the snowboard chandeliers hanging above the center of the sales floor. The homemade lighting fixtures are made from glass jars of medical growers that worked with the company prior to the adult-use transition.
“There are people on that ceiling that aren’t with us anymore, so that’s kind of a memorial and an ode to them,” Wendy Buck says. “I miss those guys.”
In 2012, one specific moment opened Buck’s eyes to the medicinal qualities of cannabis.
One of her original partners in the business was a man who had a head injury in a near drowning incident, causing frequent seizures. At a picnic one afternoon, the man had a seizure, and his wife immediately put a drop of cannabis oil under his tongue.
“He was up and out of that seizure in less than 10 minutes,” Buck says. “His wife walked him through some exercises to get both sides of his brain to come back online, and all of a sudden he’s sitting back up and having lunch with us again.”
Compared to the medicine she’d administered for patients in the emergency room, cannabis worked like a miracle.
“It blew my mind,” she says. “I was like, ‘Okay, so the hippie pipe dream about this actually being medicine is true.’ And that just set me on a whole new path.”
Despite being a town of about 20,000 people, Port Angeles is home to more than a half-dozen cannabis retailers, in addition to several others in the county.
“It is absolutely cutthroat,” Buck says. “People joke and call it Pot Angeles.”