CASE STUDY: How to Build Community Support as a Cannabis Operator

Cannabis businesses have every reason to engage with their local communities.
Cannabis businesses have every reason to engage with their local communities. / Image courtesy of JARS Cannabis

If you think new cannabis dispensaries are automatically embraced with open arms, time for a reality check.

Even in places like California, where more than half of counties have a ban on legal cannabis sales, cannabis stigma is still quite strong.

More people than ever may approve of legalized cannabis, however the “Not In My Back Yard” mentality is still there.

This is where cannabis brands and dispensaries can really add a lot of value, by finding creative ways to engage with and be a part of their local communities.

Michigan-based dispensary chain JARS Cannabis is one of the companies at the forefront in community outreach, curating events and content that truly inspire and reflect the communities they serve with one binding factor: good weed.

Erasing Cannabis Stigma & Healing Divides

Although cannabis is largely legal throughout the U.S., it still accounts for more arrests per year than all violent crimes put together, and Black Americans are still 3.64 times more likely to be the ones arrested, even though the plant is used pretty equally among all adult demographics. 

The stigma surrounding cannabis persists throughout the nation, despite the fact that crime rates fall when legal dispensaries open and teenage cannabis use drops in states where the plant is legal.

JARS is forging a new path for how dispensaries can fit in with their communities, educate on the benefits of cannabis, and truly connect. 

“We always wanted to play in the medical marijuana industry,” says Raymond Abro, Chief Operating Officer of JARS, of the brand’s origins. 

“When it came to fruition, we started looking at the Michigan market as it opened up. We saw this great opportunity to help out in alternative medicine, while also creating a business and a community.”

The JARS team was interested in the community aspect from the start, centering their efforts around it and making sure their presence fit in with the existing vibe. JARS Director of Marketing, Stefanie Michels, has been curating events with this concept in mind since her start at the company last year. 

“At their core, these events are about connecting with the people within the communities we serve,” Michels says. 

“We approach our business in a grassroots way; we take a look at the community we’re in and first try to build partnerships within those communities. Then, we work from there.”

Opening with a Bang is Just the Start

JARS cannabis dance battle
The Jars Cannabis dance battle brought people together. / Image courtesy of JARS Cannabis

JARS’ events are entirely reflective of the surrounding demographic and what they’re interested in. Most recently, they hosted a COVID-safe dance battle at their Detroit location on May 1, free and open to anyone over 18.

The event was in celebration of the West Detroit location opening, with the added intent of donating $3,500 to Motor City Street Dance Academy, and bringing the community together as a whole.

“For the dance battle, we got some vendors together, and we got to raise some money for the kids in the neighborhood who can’t afford to go to lessons,” says Abro. “That was huge and gratifying, and really fun! As we continue to be educated, we want to keep engulfing ourselves in these communities.”

The event featured opportunities for cannabis education and awareness, with budtenders available on site to answer any questions or just chat in general. The dance battle specifically featured a style of dance called “jit,” a style of street-dance that originated in the Detroit neighborhood JARS serves. 

“When Stefanie joined the team, I didn’t know what it would lead to. And then she created this curated event series for our dispensary openings, and they’ve been a huge success,” Abro says. 

“As the world has continued to change and we continue to get educated on our communities, to really be engulfed like this has been a huge plus for us.”

Building Trust Through Community Engagement

JARS Cannabis dance battle
Cannabis brings people together. Why not celebrate that? / Image courtesy of JARS Cannabis

The dance battle wasn’t JARS’s first attempt to connect with their community – the dispensary has been putting on grand opening events throughout the year, like JARS Ice Fest (a day full of ice sculptures, CBD mocktails, and good food), the JARS Roundtable with NBA Alum & Founder of Viola Brands Al Harrington, and the JARS Leveled Up Series, which highlights different action sports like snowboarding or motocross – a.k.a., “cannabis-worthy occasions.”

“We use the term ‘host’ in regards to our events,” Michel says. “We like to stand back and say, we’re supporting this concept or this event, but we’re not necessarily owning this. We’re partnering with a group or community to bring this event to life and bring people together.”

JARS dispensaries have received plenty of positive feedback from their communities since they began their opening events. Abro says most people seem to appreciate the opportunity to have a good time and not be worried about anyone trying to force their products onto them. 

“It’s a huge win for us if the community trusts us,” Abro says. “Right now, we’re trying to expand our footprint. With COVID, our progress was set back about a year, but now we’re ramping up locations quicker than we can keep up with.”

Although business is moving right along for JARS, Abro and Michel remain dedicated to prioritizing connection over expansion as they reach new markets and demographics. 

“Before any of our dispensary doors open, we first figure out how to engage with the community, curate an opening event that makes sense for the community, and then talk to community leaders to figure out how we can become a meaningful part of that environment,” Abro says.

Abro is also looking at new states as more continue to legalize, figuring out where JARS can fit into each region and community if possible. However, the team will always prioritize their roots and ensure they are running a viable business that brings something valuable to the table – not just revenue. 

“It’s tough to find community leaders who can really drive us in that direction. It’s easy to throw money at something, but that’s meaningless. We want to be part of this. We want to see it happen, and we want to be part of the community win.”

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