Seattle's recreational cannabis stores don't often have much in the way of ambience. At worst, they feel like a sterile strip-mall dental office or a dimly lit Walmart.
But Maryam Mirnateghi wants to change that. Her new store, Canna West Seattle, set to open in October, is housed in a 1920s Craftsman-style house on California Avenue Southwest and will be worlds away from those impersonal pot shops.
"It's going to be clean and classy, but it's not going to be pretentious," Mirnateghi says. "It's going to be really cozy and very different from the other stores we have in the city."
She hired an architect and a designer, she says, "to help keep the charm of the house. It has some amazing old woodwork inside."
More importantly, Mirnateghi wants Canna West Seattle to be a resource for social education about cannabis. Her aim is to help Seattleites become more informed about the plant's myriad uses and to dispel myths about its effects still lingering from the anti-marijuana age of Reefer Madness. When the store opens, she hopes neighbors will treat swinging by Canna West Seattle with the same normalcy as grabbing a latte from C&P Coffee Company, which sits just around the corner.
Mirnateghi, who previously had another pot business, has spent the past five years navigating the complex world of Washington State retail cannabis licensing. Last December, she closed down Fusion, the medical cannabis dispensary she opened in 2011. There, Mirnateghi says, she had a dedicated clientele, some of whom were distraught when they got word of Fusion’s demise.
"It was super sad. We had a ton of regulars," she says. "When someone comes in to chat with us for a half an hour or even five minutes once a week, we have a relationship with them."
The building that housed the dispensary, which was just blocks away from the western shore of Lake Union, was scheduled to be torn down. In addition to closing, Mirnateghi, along with other medical dispensary owners, nearly lost their retail store licenses from the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board. The agency had limited the number of permits available for businesses transitioning from being medical dispensaries to recreational shops, as mandated by state law.
Thankfully, Mirnateghi was able to keep one of her three retail licenses. Although she knew reopening in another spot in downtown Seattle would be more profitable, she made the risky decision to open a store in the Junction, a neighborhood in the heart of West Seattle.
"For selfish reasons, I wanted to be the one to open a store there just because I feel like I could make one that fit the community very well," says Mirnateghi, who has lived in the Lincoln Park neighborhood for the last 12 years.
Mirnateghi, who is the child of Iranian immigrants, worked as a corporate real-estate consultant before she was a cannabis entrepreneur. Although she smoked recreationally, Mirnateghi says she didn't become familiar with medical cannabis until her fiancé's grandmother was battling ovarian cancer, and the only medicine that seemed to help her manage the side effects of chemotherapy was a cannabis tincture.
When she and her fiancé tried to find stores that supplied the tincture, they found budtenders weren't always knowledgeable about the medical uses for their products.
"You'd go into one store and the guy would be like, 'I don't know. They all get you high,'" Mirnateghi says.
Although Mirnateghi and her fiancé eventually found a store in which a worker was able to explain the uses for the different products that were available, she says she was startled that some medical shop workers had little knowledge of what they were selling.
"Had it not been for a medical purpose for Grandma, I probably would've never seen the gap in the industry," she says. "There was a lot of room for improvement, but a lot of demand as well."
In the end, she says, she knew she could help make the industry better. To start, she served on the board of the Coalition for Cannabis Standards and Ethics, which works closely with policy-makers, and later opened Fusion.
She is an unabashed West Seattle fangirl and wanted to stay in the neighborhood. Two other newly licensed stores, Northwest Patient Resource Center and Origins plan to open up further south in Roxhill and White Center, respectively. In addition to the weed store, she is planning to open a glass store, which will sell pipes and other paraphernalia, across the street.
For Mirnateghi, Canna West Seattle is an opportunity to bring something new to her community and connect with her neighbors.
"It's about access," she says. "There's a lot of people in West Seattle, based on the phone calls I'm getting, who want us to open as soon as possible."
While "mainland" Seattleites treat West Seattle as though it's another country, Mirnateghi says that, between Alki Beach–goers and foodies wanting to catch up with their friends, she's confident people will swing by Canna West Seattle during their trip.
Mirnateghi is working on getting two other cannabis retail licenses and plans to open up other recreational shops throughout the city.
But, she says, Canna West Seattle is still going to be home.
"I'm being so protective of it," she says. "I want to make a pot shop that the neighborhood is going to embrace and love."