Not your average dispensary: Interior design is changing cannabis retail

Cannabis dispensary design has changed. Stores are no longer discrete and dimly lit, there’s a new aesthetic at play.

Before legalization, you couldn’t count on a glamorous experience when buying cannabis. Now, if you’re on Instagram and look up #DispensaryDesign, there are thousands of photos showcasing stores with polished cement floors, mid-century modern furniture, and edison light bulbs. 

When it comes to interior design, cannabis dispensaries are opening the door to a new retail experience. Legalization has created opportunities for cannabis brands to engage with designers in a way that they couldn’t before—making the creative options limitless. It’s become commonplace for dispensaries to embrace a fashionable style that even mainstream publications like Architectural Digest and Curbed have highlighted exceptional locations across North America.


Old-school medicinal aesthetics 

Dispensaries have come a long way from the early days of the medical-exclusive system. Back then, you were more likely to be greeted with barred windows and security guards than soft light and natural wood countertops. 

In order to get through the door, you needed a medical ID and—more likely than not—a wad of cash, as it was highly unlikely the dispensary would have a credit card machine on the premises. Some dispensaries would only allow one or two customers at a time into a semi-private, secured room to complete their purchase. Meanwhile, the next customers would be in a waiting room, standing by for their turn. 

But that’s all changing. Like any other retail industry, cannabis dispensaries have switched up their aesthetic so that they can appeal to a broader audience of consumers than they had before legalization.


Cannabis dispensary design draws in new consumers

It’s no secret that cannabis has a broad consumer base—and plenty of demand. However, with the decades of stigmatization that come with the plant and its products, there are still many people sitting on the fence when it comes to buying cannabis. Appealing, innovative, and aspirational cannabis dispensary design—as well as targeted marketing that showcases those elements—are key for getting these tentative potential consumers through the door.

Dispensaries are putting disruptive design into practice across North America. MedMen considers itself the “Apple store of cannabis,” and its stylish shops in Los Angeles and New York City have long tables, white walls, and tablets that certainly evoke a similar experience. Meanwhile, San Francisco’s Apothecarium has a reputation as one of the most indulgent dispensaries in the entire U.S. At their location in the historic Castro neighbourhood, visitors browse menus on plush velvet furniture while waiting for their “patient consultant”.


Infusing the brand into the store

Good design helps establish the brand of the dispensary or—more broadly—the retailer behind it. You’re more likely to earn word-of-mouth with an impressive storefront than with a display that’s boring or cluttered. This is not only a smart business move, but it is also sometimes a necessity. Because Canada strictly regulates the way dispensaries can market themselves—they’re banned from advertising on TV, billboards, and magazine ads—storefronts have to create a memorable and immersive experience to keep customers coming back. 

For instance, Prairie Records, a dispensary with locations in Saskatchewan and Alberta, has designed an experience that echoes a visit to a record store. Customers can flip through informational “record sleeves” like Wave Runner and Tangerine Dream—the store’s “top hits”—as they make their decision. By making the natural connection between cannabis and music, this approach to retail gets stuck in your head like a catchy song. 

But the experience doesn’t have to end at the retail counter. Stiiizy, a premium cannabis lifestyle brand, opened a 6,500-square-foot shop in Los Angeles in August 2019. The space acts as an art gallery as well as a dispensary, featuring LED graphic murals and an installation by the street artist RETNA. When visitors snap photos in the “Instagram pods” in the lobby and post to their social media accounts, they’re giving Stiiizy plenty of free marketing when up until a few years ago, taking photos at a dispensary wouldn’t have been appealing.

Adult-use legalization across Canada and a number of US states has opened the door for cannabis dispensaries to actively create new retail experiences. By creating experiential marketing offerings for their audience and consumers, dispensaries are positioning themselves as the go-to place to buy legal cannabis. And as the industry continues to evolve, who knows what else they’ll come up with. 

Come see what all the hype is about. Eden Empire has designed a community-based experience at our stores. Find a location near you.

Photos: James Sutton / Unsplash, Edu Grande / Shutterstock