A bright white building with red pinstripe window shades sits at the corner of High Street and South Higuera Street. At first glance, a visitor might mistake it for a candy shop — until they see the security guard checking IDs at the entrance. Inside, customers are greeted with pink and mint green walls, colorful displays of an array of products and a big neon sign behind the plexiglass-covered cash registers.
Welcome to the first cannabis market and dispensary storefront in the city of San Luis Obispo.
Megan’s Organic Market opened on Aug. 15. Megan Souza and co-founder Eric Powers have owned a CBD storefront in Morro Bay since 2013, but the pair wasn’t permitted to open a location in the city of San Luis Obispo until early this year.
Before Megan’s Organic Market, Souza was a philosophy graduate pursuing a master’s degree in English from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Realizing she no longer wanted to become an English professor, Souza dropped out of the master’s program and decided to focus on the retail side of the cannabis and hemp industries. Souza and Powers began cultivating the hemp flower in 2010, and slowly made their way through various stages of selling their products.
Ten years after the start of cultivation, Souza sits in front of a large mural that reads, “Welcome to Megan’s Organic Market.”
Video by Miranda Knight
Reporters Miranda Knight and Hailey Nagma interviewed Souza, and organized the interview into the Q&A below. Souza’s answers have been edited for length and style.
What made you want to get into the cannabis and hemp business over any other kind of business?
My partner Eric is a farmer, and if it wasn’t cannabis it would’ve been something else — specialty citrus or apples for hard cider or something like that. We had already rented a small plot of land for growing vegetables, so it was not a big leap to go to cannabis. It was really just market opportunity. Prop 215 created this interesting opening where you could operate as a collective.
We knew a lot of people who needed cannabis. Eric is a talented farmer, talented grower, and nobody else that we knew of at the time was producing organic flower, and he really wanted to do that.
What moved you to the city of San Luis Obispo?
The city of SLO was really just the next city to come online. They were the next city to decide to permit cannabis. But also it’s centrally located between south and north county, and also centrally located for those passing through. We’re halfway between L.A. and San Francisco, and we’re right off the freeway here. The total serviceable market compared to the number of dispensary permits allowed was favorable here.
Speaking of location, was it strategic to move on the end of High Street?
That was certainly a lovely little bonus. So, this neck of the woods has been called the “So-Hi” district for South Higuera at High Street. Somebody at a Chamber of Commerce meeting told me that two years ago and I’ve just been running with it and telling everybody that I know. And we’re actually working on launching a cannabis brand called SoHi.
So, you opened Megan’s Organic Market during a pandemic. How did the COVID-19 outbreak impact your plans to open and what did you do to navigate the unprecedented times?
First, we were absolutely terrified. Because, you know, this was 10 years coming and 10 years of building debt and never being able to pay ourselves because we were working for the day that we could open the store. So, terrifying — until the governor determined that cannabis and hemp are essential industries.
Once cannabis was determined to be an essential industry, we were so relieved. It’s been not bad. Cannabis has not suffered the way that most every other industry has. One positive thing to come out of COVID for the cannabis and hemp industries is curbside pickup. So customers can pre-order and pull up, and we take it to their car.
What was the process like in just obtaining the permitting to open?
It was a lot of community outreach work, for sure, because we had to put together a really winning community benefit plan in order to beat the other applicants. We did so by just getting in tune with the needs of the residents of the city of SLO and the nonprofits of the city of SLO.
You mentioned community outreach and speaking at City Council meetings. What was the response like? Did you get any pushback?
There is a very well-organized, well-funded, active group called SLO Cannabis Watch Group, which is an anti-cannabis prohibitionist group. There are that group and other folks of a similar mindset who are just really impacted by the propaganda of the old days. They’re always at every City Council meeting talking about how cannabis is a gateway drug, how it’s corrupting the youth and whatnot. There will always be pushback, but cannabis is here to stay. The people want it, and once it’s there, you can’t take it away.
What would you say to people who might think that having this store is indirectly supplying underage individuals with access to cannabis?
I think we as a society are just going to have to start having conversations with our kids the same way we do with our kids about alcohol. The reality is cannabis is here, and maybe this will force conversations that otherwise were not being had but should’ve been being had between parents and kids.
What is it like to open in a college town? Are college students your main clientele?
Yeah, that was our original assumption when we first opened our retail business back in 2013. We thought that the college students would be our bread and butter, and that was very far from the truth. It was actually seniors and terminally ill people that were our main clientele of our Prop 215 delivery service and that continues to be the case for our storefront dispensary in SLO. We definitely do really well with the over-55 demographic, with women and with first-time cannabis users, or people who are coming back to it after not having used it for decades.
I think we do very well among that demographic because we are very approachable. Our very wholesome aesthetic is not off-putting, it’s not intimidating.
Speaking of aesthetics, what made you decide on this kind of feel for your store?
It was a hard-fought battle to get this set up that we have here, this open product display layout where everything is just out on the tables instead of behind a counter. We wanted to do that because we wanted to normalize the cannabis shopping experience as much as possible. We want it to feel like a regular store, and I think that we succeeded.
What makes Megan’s Organic Market special?
What’s special is we’re just a mom-and-pop cannabis shop, and that’s extremely rare nowadays because the hurdles to get regulated are just significant barriers to entry for any small operator. If it weren’t that Eric and I were just good at navigating regulation, we would never have made it where we are. And if it wasn’t that our city prioritized localism, we also wouldn’t be here.
What would you say to people who have no experience with cannabis, but might be interested in exploring their options?
Don’t be afraid! Firstly, if you come in, you don’t have to buy anything, you can just come in and look. Also, we have lots of products that are not psychoactive, which I think is a lot of people’s primary apprehension.
How do you think the opening of your store will affect the cannabis industry in the county?
We like to think that we’re making a big impact. We like to think that we’re setting the tone by being responsible and community-focused and wholesome and professional, and creating something that is unexpected that people who are apprehensive about cannabis can experience and maybe change their minds.