Changing the Face of Cannabis
The industry that caters to medicinal and recreational marijuana use in Colorado has had enough time and experience to display success on many levels. Ajoya is a great example of forward-thinking by those who produce and sell marijuana. We spoke with Ajoya COO Joey Gindi of the current state of the industry and Ajoya’s plans for the future.
One thing is certain when talking about the state of the industry. It is booming, and Colorado is at the heart of this success. The amount of tax and revenue that has been generated has had a tremendous impact on the state as new schools, roads and other infrastructure are being built with the funds. Profits are being put to good use and a host of stereotypes associated with the drug are being eradicated and replaced with realities that cannot be ignored.
“From what I know and am seeing at the ground level, legalization has not caused any increase in crime. Marijuana‐related arrests are down overall, though people of color continue to be arrested for these crimes at much higher rates. And we’ve recently learned that cannabis consumption among teens has actually decreased since recreational use passed.” While a decrease in arrests may not be good for the privatized penal system, these trends are good news for the state as a whole.
After seven years spent fine-tuning the company’s approach to reflect the needs of patients and customers, Joey and his brother, Shaun Gindi, decided to rebrand their respected Compassionate Pain Management dispensary as Ajoya, a lifestyle-focused retail brand designed to meet the needs and interests of today’s diverse cannabis consumers. The store was built out with one vision in mind: to be the most recognized and trusted cannabis brand in the industry.
“We wanted to transform people’s experience, and it’s so rewarding to see our customers benefit from our efforts. There is still a lot of work that we can do to perfect our craft just with the two stores that we have,” says Joey. Dispensaries are now tinkering with original business models and coming up with new strategies to erase the stigmatization of this potent plant and educate people as to its many benefits.
The store in Louisville serves the retail and medical markets, while the Lakewood store serves medical patients only. Joey is not in a rush to open new stores. Instead, he is continuing to garner information and improve customer satisfaction. He wants the customer experience to surpass that of any other store.
“We really want people to love what we’ve got going on at Ajoya. There is a lot more brand development and work ahead to make that happen and achieve our goal of being the most recognized and trusted cannabis brand in the industry,” says Joey. This year, Ajoya will partner with a coalition of local cannabis companies to campaign for recreational sales in Lakewood, putting a retail expansion at this existing location squarely in the team’s sights.
Getting rid of the stigma associated with marijuana is central to Ajoya’s mission. The stores offer a stylish, friendly atmosphere that serves to erase prevalent stereotypes surrounding the use of cannabis. The store’s design is very well thought out and designed with a certain flow in mind. The graphics and interior lend themselves to this flow.
Design was a major consideration for Ajoya. Every detail, from interiors to graphics, contributes to a seamless, relaxed flow for every interaction. “We didn’t want a stark white space, so we wall-wrapped a lot of the interior with vinyl and designs that bring the brand to life with color and imagery. The store’s design is essential for creating a welcoming vibe,” explains Joey.
Ajoya prides itself on its four product categories: Settle, Unwind, Focus and Elevate. “One thing we did with these experience categories was to offer our customers innovative new ways of looking at cannabis. The four categories make it easy to understand each strain’s effects and tailor the experience to suit your needs,” explains Joey.
Many people are not educated about tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). They know it is the main cannabinoid in cannabis, but do not necessarily understand its effects. For novice consumers who are not that familiar with marijuana, who may not have tried it for a while, or who haven’t tried it in a legal setting, the category system makes shopping easier. “The category system bridges the gap between the stereotypes surrounding cannabis and where we think this industry is going. It helps people get related to this amazing plant in a way that was not possible before legalization,” says Joey.
A client can choose a strain to lift mood sometimes or to relax after work. Customers get a pretty good idea what to expect from the product without requiring in-depth knowledge of the plant.
Joey stresses that this is not a science. There is no lab studying the products or breaking down the different terpenes and cannabinoids. For instance, there is no guarantee that if you buy Sour Diesel, it will make you focus. However, the experienced people who run the company use their expert knowledge to make the category system as accurate as possible.
One of the main concerns of dispensaries in Colorado, Oregon and Washington is that the federal government has yet to recognize the legal aspect of the flower. This means that it is, for the most part, a cash business, and that can be dangerous for any dispensary – for obvious reasons. It was refreshing to hear from Joey that banking is finally becoming accessible to dispensaries like Ajoya.
“There are not many financial institutions that offer banking to marijuana businesses, but there are a couple that are offering critical services. These banks work with compliance teams to conduct due diligence, ensuring that the businesses that bank with them are legitimate and operating in full compliance with state laws and regulations. Our bank requests, on a monthly basis, all of our paperwork to prove our legitimacy and where the money is coming from,” explains Joey.
Banks and insurance companies shy away from the industry. Aside from the plant’s federally illegal status, banks’ primary concern about offering services to marijuana business is the possibility of money laundering. How will the banks verify that money deposited into the bank is legitimate, when the businesses can’t be federally insured?
Banks are not really trying to stop a black market. If that were the case, they would be a little more proactive in taking on the marijuana businesses. The companies that will take on some dispensaries are doing what can be done to ensure that the money is legal and that there is nothing shady going on.
“I’m sure that happens in the industry – people doing things that they shouldn’t. The bank we deal with is a credit union. The branch of partners they work with is called Safe Harbor,” says Joey.
Since legalization, the business is booming in many ways. Many positive results have come from the legal sale and distribution of marijuana, and there is no reason as to why this success cannot be furthered. Or is there? President Donald Trump has nominated some cabinet members that have spoken out against legal marijuana.
“I don’t think Trump will be a threat to this industry. For me, personally, it has not been a concern. So much has been put into this industry, and we have made so much headway, that I can’t see it going back the other way. I hopeTrump would see the potential in this industry,” Joey says.
Joey would love for the new president to come into Ajoya to see the future of regulated cannabis. Politicians need to see how dispensaries like Ajoya are changing the face of cannabis. “All of our work is dedicated to erasing the myths and stereotypes surrounding cannabis,” says Joey.
Joey is currently trying to get his Lakewood store to sell retail cannabis to add to the medicinal sales, but there is still much work to do to counter the stereotypes instilled by 80 years of drug war propaganda. One woman who moved into the area expressed concerns. She wants her children to grow up in an area that was not rife with “pot heads and stoners.” What she does not understand is that people from all walks of life buy cannabis – from teachers to business people.
“When she said that, I did not get upset, but it was an eye-opener. My job right now is in educating people and creating a retail experience that will erase the antiquated thinking surrounding this plant and how people think about others that smoke. We grew up learning that weed is a scary, dangerous ‘gateway drug.’ We want people to look at cannabis in a new, positive light,” says Joey.