Debuting on New Year’s Eve last year, Weed Dudes opened its door as the first retailer of marijuana in Sitka.
“I kept expecting to get kicked off the crazy train. Somewhere along this process they’re going to say no,” Michelle Cleaver, owner of Weed Dudes said about applying for her license. “I thought I would be a good person to open a pot business. I used to be a teacher. If you can educate your customer, you are going to have a responsible consumer.”
She calls the store “Weed Dudes” after her husband John Cleaver’s commercial cabinet and custom wood shop “Wood Dudes,” located right next door. Wood Dudes has been open in Sitka for 15 years, and Michelle Cleaver has lived in Sitka for 35 years. She lived in Juneau before that.
“We wanted people to know it was us,” she said on naming the pot shop after Wood Dudes. “And it worked cause everyone in town knows you can come to us for weed or for wood.”
She had been considering opening a pot shop for some time. She had been a pot smoker since she was 16.
“It’s such a hidey thing, a sneaky thing, a judgmental thing. Then you realize how many people in your community smoke pot,” she said.
She thought the first thing she should do was ask the other tenants of the plaza if they had any reservations about a pot shop opening. When she got the okay, she rented a vacated karate studio.
The shop ended up requiring a whole lot of paperwork – 10 months’ worth. Her biggest problem upon opening was she didn’t have any marijuana to sell.
“We have three growers here in town but they all got their licenses late, so the crops come in late. We’re expecting it in the beginning of March,” she said of Green Leaf, run by Aaron Bean, Vern’s Wicked Weed, by Jeremy Erickson, and Northern Lights, by Mike Daly.
In the meantime, on shelves John Cleaver made there is art work on display, pipes for sale, and soon t-shirts and sweatshirts.
Cleaver said she plans to sell under the black market price so people buy their weed through legal businesses like hers.
“Right now the demand is higher than supply, but once more growers come online, they go like this,” Cleaver said, making a scale flipping motion.
For the grand opening on Dec. 31, she had to go through Greatland Ganja in Kasilof for her fare before she could turn to local growers. To transport, she had to fly her weed back to Sitka through Anchorage; as the airport is federally run, and thus flying with weed illegal, she was able to do a work around with the Cole Memo. (The Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office summarized this memo online to state if a licensed marijuana business is complying with all other state regulations in regards to marijuana, then the marijuana may be transported via airlines despite being an illegal substance on the federal level.) She just had to make sure her state paperwork checked out, which it did.
“We were able to open on New Year’s Eve, and it’s been crazy ever since,” she said. They sold out of nearly everything in mid-January. She plans to go to Fairbanks the second week of February to purchase edibles and pre-rolls to be sold deli-style for an opening that week. Besides pre-rolls and frozen buds, she plans to do some deli style marijuana sales; that’s when the employee weighs the marijuana in front of the customer to show how much of the loose leaf is being sold, from a gram to an ounce.
Some plans have changed for her though with the Feb. 2 Marijuana Control Board meeting. If the board had ruled to approve the cafés, people could smoke marijuana in some retail stores, making it the first café-style marijuana shops in the U.S.
“I think it’s a tragedy because down here in Southeast, hey, we got 8,000 people in this town but we got half a million cruise boat visitors. So the cruise boat people are going to come in here, we’re going to sell them pot, and then what? It’s going to become a public issue with them smoking pot out on trails, in the parks, ‘cause they have nowhere else to smoke. The whole idea of bringing up the smoking lounge was to bring visitors and tourists into our area and give them a safe place to smoke so it doesn’t become a public issue,” Cleaver said.
Many people weighed against the marijuana cafes now due to worries about a reaction from President Donald Trump’s administration.
In the future, Cleaver wants to start looking into oils and gels. She’s also been exploring non-psychoactive component of marijuana, cannabidiol (commonly known as CBD) for the health benefits in treating different conditions.
Overall Weed Dudes has been a positive experience for her.
“I didn’t know how much fun it was going to be,” she said. “This is going to sound terrible, but popping someone’s pot cherry — the first time they buy it legally. That’s one of the funnest things of all. … Everyday there’s someone who comes in bright eyed like ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe I’m in a pot shop,’ and I’m ‘please let me sell you weed legally.’ It feels great.”