PHOENIX, Ariz. – After working in radio for 17 years, Mark Steinmetz was ready for a change. Before venturing into the legal marijuana game, Steinmetz with worked with ABC, CBS and Disney and helped launch Radio Disney and ESPN Radio.
Steinmetz opened Nature’s AZ Medicines in Phoenix to medical cardholders in July 2013. Since then the dispensary has added a second location in Fountain Hills. Steinmetz said he plans on opening a third dispensary in October, with the possibility of another expansion in 2016.
“I’ve been following it because I had always felt that marijuana, as a substance, was actually fairly benign,” Steinmetz said. “I felt legal medical cannabis was a legitimate industry and that it was good for society. Wherever regulated cannabis programs exist, teen usage falls, according to my analysis of the bi-annual CDC teen health risk assessment surveys. After crunching the numbers I also felt that it was a reasonably good business investment.”
For each dispensary Steinmetz contracts with a grower who is licensed by the Arizona Department of Health Services. As of right now, Nature’s AZ Medicines has three grows in operation: two 55,000-square-foot hybrid greenhouses and one 14,000-square-foot indoor facility.
Steinmetz said true outdoor grows are difficult due to the harsh Arizona sun. By using what he calls “hybrid greenhouses,” growers can utilize the abundant sunlight without scorching the plants, while maintaining a smaller carbon footprint. Steinmetz said the single indoor grow costs him three times as much in electricity as one of the greenhouses.
The hybrid facilities combine elements of indoor and greenhouse operations, complete with concrete floors and brick walls, as well as translucent ceiling coverings. These greenhouses feature blackout curtains and 450 1,000-watt high-pressure sodium bulbs to provide supplemental lighting for year-round harvests.
“The term that is being coined right now is ‘sun-grown’ because it isn’t really a greenhouse in the traditional greenhouse sense,” Steinmetz said. “It’s really a hybrid. We think it works best in Arizona.”
For its retail side, Nature’s AZ Medicines hired an interior designer to assist with the flourishing chain’s aesthetic. Steinmetz wanted the dispensary to be a balance of culture and medicine.
“We really wanted to go for a Starbucks feel,” Steinmetz said. “Elegant, professional, but comfortable and hip. It’s really challenging to walk that line between the cannabis and medical cultures. You really can’t step too far in one direction or another without alienating your core customer; so we really spent a lot of time thinking and talking about how to do that.”