Over the past six years of running a cannabis retail store — that has now occupied three different locations in Chelan County, Washington — American Harvest owner Kelani Mirau has learned a great deal about the marijuana industry, the scientific intricacies of the cannabis plant, the many uses of cannabis and how to more effectively run her company, but she’s also had to take a crash course in zoning and real estate scouting.
“Once we found a viable location near Leavenworth, my main objective was to be able to own the property, so that I wasn’t kicked off or dictated by whoever owned the property,” she says. “I wanted to make sure I was in control of everything, the license, the property and that solidified my position moving forward that I’m able to be my own boss.”
Mirau recently spoke with Marijuana Venture about the joys and challenges of running a cannabis retail shop in a rural part of Washington state that benefits greatly from tourist traffic.
Marijuana Venture: What got you interested in the cannabis business?
Kelani Mirau: I was studying at the local university at the time and majoring in sociology, while being a stay-at-home mom. Applying for a retail license was a once in a life-time opportunity, and I did not want to miss out on having the opportunity to introduce this product from a woman’s perspective.
Not only was this industry brand new, but it was the end of prohibition and had the potential of becoming a booming industry. I took a chance and was lucky enough to be awarded a cannabis retail license in Chelan County (Peshastin), which is the closest retail store to Leavenworth.
MV: How has cannabis affected your life?
KM: I have become very passionate about cannabis because of the diversity of this plant and its history of being utilized for hundreds of years by multiple cultures, spanning numerous continents. Learning more about cannabis on a scientific, historic and economic level gave new light to this plant, which is still looked down upon socially. Non-conformity to social norms is not always a bad thing, and I believe in wanting to educate the community with the positive sides of this industry. Helping to discount stigmas and replace them with more education has become one of my passions with my store.
The cannabis industry itself has brought a lot of meaningful people into my life that have helped teach valuable lessons, while learning how to navigate through this brand-new industry together. You meet a lot of individuals that were very successful in their prior trade, however, in cannabis, everyone was on the same playing ground. It’s interesting to see how many companies and brands have evolved since the start.
Not only can this industry become an economic stimulant, proven even during a pandemic, but it also has the potential of offering some promising medicinal components with more third-party testing, giving Big Pharma a run for its money. I am excited to see how 2021 looks for cannabis.
MV: Was it hard to find a location and get the store open?
KM: It was incredibly difficult. I won one of my licenses in Chelan County, where most of the valley is zoned Rural Agricultural, due to the predominant fruit production in the area. Finding commercially zoned areas that were located outside of city limits of Leavenworth, but within my jurisdiction of Chelan County, was like searching for a needle in a haystack. However, I became very acquainted with my local zoning maps, diligently searched every commercial property in my county and found the one location that would work and bought it.
Getting the store off the ground was grueling, but an absolute labor of love. My family and I spent an entire two weeks building out an old restaurant in the dead of winter, weeks before Christmas. We turned the location quickly and were ready for our final inspection from the state by the end of the month.
MV: What challenges have you faced with the local community?
KM: Our local community has been incredibly good to us. We try to be as conscious as possible about our neighbors since we have a few residential properties located close by. I wanted to ensure the store was improving the local community and not being a hinderance.
We are involved with annual food drives that support local residents. We are a part of the Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce. And we volunteer as a clean-up crew after Oktoberfest every year.
One of the neat components in Washington is that a portion of the taxes collected are allocated in quarterly installments to each county where the cannabis retail store resides. This does not include the 8.2% sales tax that is also being collected on gross sales. These quarterly installments are then applied toward schools, streets and to the police department within our county.
MV: Is your business mostly made up of locals or tourists?
KM: We have a very distinctive set of demographics. We have our tourists that frequent Leavenworth for the festivals and recreation, but then we have our locals that are very important to me. Dialing into the needs of these two demographics have helped greatly with how I order for the store.
MV: What rules changes would you like to see in Washington’s cannabis industry?
KM: Cannabis lounges. Tourists are one of my top two demographics and you hear a lot of the same requests or complaints. When they come to visit, it is hard for people to consume in areas in which they are not violating any rules or laws. Having a safe area, like a bar, that is regulated for safe consumption of cannabis, would be wonderful to eventually offer in Washington.
And another change I’d like to see is with lab standards. Having a standard that all Washington labs are held to would help greatly in having consistent results. The industry has come a long way from when we first started. However, there could be stronger rules that would help support continuity on laboratory standards. As a retailer, knowing what exactly is in the product my customers are consuming is incredibly important.
MV: Have you seen any changes in what consumers want to purchase?
KM: Consumers have become more educated in the cannabis products that they consume, especially when it comes to CBD products. As the consumers are becoming more refined in product knowledge and the different mediums that our vendors produce, we are seeing a more sophistication of products being introduced to the market, such as hash oil rosin, Lebanese and Moroccan hashish, temple balls, solventless extracts and isolated delta-8 THC.
This interview is edited for length and clarity.
Plus: Read more about American Harvest on Page 90, in Marijuana Venture’s new monthly feature focused on cannabis retailers throughout Washington.