By ANDREW CREMATA
The Remedy Shoppe, Skagway’s first marijuana retail store and the first to receive a license in the state of Alaska, opened for business on Jan. 20. Business was brisk.
Customers filled the store’s interior, and in less than an hour a line had formed to purchase one of the four strains of cannabis currently available to local consumers. Various displays on the sales counter detailed the differences between cannabis strains, each with its own unique name.
Owner Tara Bass called her first day a “soft opening,” but was ready to get an idea of what demand for her product may be during the winter months. She explained that the entire process presented a significant learning curve, from both a business and personal perspective.
“I never tried any weed, much less purchased it. But for my first time, I bought five pounds,” said Bass, holding up a large bag of marijuana.
The business concerns were more daunting. Bass explained that all marijuana grown for retail sale within the state of Alaska must be “tracked from seed to consumption so that the state is aware of how it’s transported.”
None of the product can cross the border, which presents unique challenges for sellers in remote locations like Skagway. Bass said that marijuana cultivators are responsible for most intra-state transport.
In the final moments before opening, Remedy Shoppe employee Reba Radey was making sure her computer entries were accurate. “I’m really nervous,” she said. “I don’t want to make any mistakes.”
Bass provided a tour of the shop. Multiple displays within the joint explained the difference between various products, and how their individual attributes are tested by the state. A large magnifying glass with its own light allows cannabis connoisseurs an opportunity for close-up inspection.
One of the displays explained the key differences between the two marijuana strains sold in the store, cannabis sativa and cannabis indica. Bass described sativa as more “energetic,” and indica as more “relaxed.” Most products are hybrids of the two strains that fall somewhere within a wide spectrum between indica and sativa.
Despite the fact that marijuana is now available for purchase in 28 states (mostly for medical but seven of which are for recreational use, including Alaska) it remains on the U.S. government’s list of illegal Schedule 1 drugs: defined as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” according to the Drug Enforcement Agency website.
While Bass believes that federal restrictions will relax in the coming years, the issue still creates a number of challenges unique to her business. Few banks are willing to accept deposits from marijuana-related businesses, and credit card companies will not allow their cardholders to purchase marijuana. The vast majority of legal marijuana businesses in the United States are forced to operate as cash-only vendors. This not only creates significant risk for business owners, but also obliges them to hash out various issues regarding income tax.
Paying income tax on a banned substance like marijuana is essentially an admission of breaking federal law. However, states that allow the legalized sale of marijuana have wasted no time in taxing it. If a marijuana vendor chooses not to report their earnings, they can be prosecuted for federal tax evasion. High taxes and few allowable tax deductions routinely force dispensaries to declare bankruptcy.
It’s enough to make you paranoid.
Bass said that she was confident in her business management, and had worked diligently to resolve many of the aforementioned issues. With her grand opening less than an hour away, she was more eager to start getting feedback about her business and the products available for purchase.
Even though marijuana is getting plenty of national attention for possible medicinal benefits, especially for those with chronic problems, Bass said they are not legally allowed to make any such claims. Bass did tout the quality of her product, all of which was grown by Northern Lights Indoor Gardens in Sitka using organic methods.
At 6:30 p.m., a bright green light flickered on in the front window of the Remedy Shoppe, and the front door was unlocked. The opening was two hours and ten minutes later than many had expected.
Patrons are required to show a current, valid form of identification that proves they are 21 years old before they can enter the main showroom. Behind the counter, “bud tender” Jacy Kern was ready to take orders and dole out the goods, while Radey worked the register and Bass helped speed things along. Their job is not a cushy one, and high opening night demand quickly put the entire staff in the weeds.
Skagway resident Jacob Cotton was first in line. Like many of the patrons on opening night, Cotton purchased a sampling of each product: Acapulco Gold, Chem Dog, Sour Al, and THC Bomb. Kern carefully weighed the flowering buds on a precision scale and gently dropped them into a green medicine bottle. The child-proof containers were then labeled, sealed and bagged.
During an interview two days later, Cotton said, “My favorite part about the Remedy Shoppe is the fact that I personally know Tara (Bass)… It’s good to see that she’s taking it seriously.”
Cotton said his favorite product was the Acapulco Gold, which he described as a “heavy sativa” more palatable for “nighttime smoking.” He said he was also fond of the Chem Dog because it boosted energy and creativity.
Bass currently sells her products “deli-style,” which means that it’s not pre-packaged. However, she expects that to change in the summer months when business will presumably be a lot busier. Bass also plans to sell edibles and concentrates, although she is unsure how soon it will happen.
In the meantime, curious Skagwegians can purchase marijuana at the Remedy Shoppe, either by weight or pre-rolled into a Jazz cigarette. The shop offers a modest selection of smoking pipes, or “bowls” as is the accepted lifestyle nomenclature, but Bass said, “I’m not interested in being a head shop. I want to be a marijuana shop.”