Why this industry? The story of our studio

October 10, 2013

When I was 23 years old, I walked into my boss’s office to receive news that would change my life forever, one way or another.  I had taken a sales position with a window manufacturer after finishing my marketing degree, and had spent the last 9 months training at their corporate headquarters.  Today was the day that all of the sales trainees in my program were receiving our relocation assignments.  We had no say in the process, and no inclination of where we were getting moved prior to our respective meetings, so you can imagine the anticipation and fear one can go through in that situation.  It was just as likely that I could be told to move to Minot, ND as it was that I could be told to move to Denver, CO.

So when I sat down and listened to my boss read me the words, “Southern California, in the Palm Springs Area,” I was blindsided by a train full of excitement, disbelief, and shock.  I had never envisioned my life would take me through a period as a Californian.  I didn’t even know where Palm Springs was on a map, let alone that there were deserts and mountains in California, or anything besides Hollywood, the Golden Gate Bridge, and beaches.  It was a time in my life when the saying, “You never know where life is going to take you” was totally appropriate.

Not long after settling in to Palm Springs, I visited a doctor to address some minor health issues I had been dealing with.  I was rather surprised when the doctor thought they could best be treated with medical marijuana.  Having lived my whole life in the Midwest, I never thought had been given this option before, but I was very receptive to a natural, safe alternative option. She referred me to a medical marijuana doctor, and when my new driver’s license arrived in the mail a week later, I paid a visit to the “pot doc” and had my first encounter with the medical marijuana world.

We all remember that moment.  I can’t look back on my life and recall any other moment that had that same ratio of contradictory feelings and perceptions. I was full of anticipation for this new legal ground, yet there was something about it that seemed so normal already.  I was so impressed that some states, like California, can allow this industry to exist, yet I was fairly unimpressed by the actual experience.  And I couldn’t believe how many people were churning through that doctor’s office, but I also couldn’t believe that it didn’t seem more legitimate, professional and established, given all of the business they were clearly receiving.

Fast forward almost three years from that day, and I was now living in Orange County, CA.  The recession had hit hard in the interim, and I decided that it was a good time to reinvest in my future, redirect my focus and career, and wait out the recession while I earned a second degree in an old passion of mine that resurfaced during my time spent in Palm Springs: interior design.

Determined to refocus my path and accomplish new goals, I chose interior design as a career where my creative talents could flourish, I could work independently, and have a lifetime of different career options to pursue.  So there I was, going to school, working a steady job to pay my bills, living at the beach, and picking up my medicine from a new dispensary in town called Orange County’s Patient Care (OCPC).

I had started going to OCPC because of their clean, professional manner, which was a change of pace from every medical marijuana industry facet I had dealt with to date.  On my third or fourth visit, the owner had asked me if I would be interested in budtending.  I was flattered, like the kind of flattered you get when people tell you you look like someone famous.  You know, the kind of flattered where you act embarrassed and shy, but really, on the inside, you are cheering like a Price is Right contestant and dying to text the complement to your friends.  Well, that was me on the inside after being asked to cross over the bud case and become a coveted medical marijuana WORKER, not just a patient.  I had been offered a job at a dispensary once in the past, but it was only because my last name is Stone and the manager thought it would be ironic…

Although I originally turned down OCPC’s offer, as luck would have it, less than two weeks later my current company gave our office a 30-day notice to close.  On my next visit to OCPC, I asked if the position was still available, was called in for an interview a couple of days later, and became a budtender.  Again, so unexpectedly, life had changed and I now had a cooler job than I ever thought I would have.

Working at OCPC changed the direction of my life forever.  Being a part of the medical marijuana industry is more fulfilling, rewarding, exciting, and challenging than any corporate job I have ever known anyone to have.  Name me another job where you can literally help save a person’s life, provide healthy lifestyle choices, make new friends from all walks of life, and sell a beautiful, natural, delicious product?  And to have been a part of Southern California’s industry during a time of massive growth juxtaposed over a political tug-of-war taught me a lot about where the industry is– and why– and where we need to go– and how.

With an owner who realized the importance of creating an atmosphere in the showroom, branding the space, and providing exceptional customer service, I was given the opportunity to remodel the showroom to enhance all of these business needs.  Then, after I was promoted to General Manager and we purchased a second shop, I got to help him do it all over again in that location.  Both shops had phenomenal success after the remodels, growing sales, patient traffic, and loyalty.

Unfortunately, the industry as a whole doesn’t share OCPC’s track record.  In California, where dispensaries have operated in a legal grey area since medical marijuana was made legal in 1996, many have opened to satisfy no other goal than to turn a profit, therefore paying no attention to the need for safety, functionality, or aesthetic planning.  Dispensary store fronts like this are not uncommon, yet far from beneficial for our industry.  Where would the California market be–let alone the National sentiment– if a majority of the dispensaries that had opened since 1996 had looked like this?

When Colorado and Washington successfully became the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012, the tides permanently changed.  Our incredible industry is nearing the tipping point, and I see the potential we have to be an integral part of our communities and economies in the decades to come.  I see more and more people realizing marijuana’s health benefits as our nation becomes more health conscious– as well as more health-deprived with processed foods, synthetic chemicals, and prescription drugs further degrading our health and bodies.  We have more access to information now than we ever had in the past, and everyday we are finding half-truths and full-lies that have been told to us over the past century to make us believe some things are bad in order to make other people rich.


And so, my journey has brought me here, to this website and this blog.  I formed The High Road Design Studio, LLC to bring interior design services to the marijuana industry from someone passionate about the marijuana industry.  I want to be sure patients and consumers not only feel safe and comfortable in dispensaries, but appreciate them just as they do their favorite restaurant, bar, coffee shop, or retail store.  I also want to educate those who have not come in contact with our industry yet, so that you may have a well-rounded, informed look at who we are, where we are going, and how you might unexpectedly play a role in it someday, just like me.

When I used to dream about what I wanted to be when I grew up, I probably could have guessed that I would leave Minnesota and find my own career path.  But I could not have guessed it would be in an industry so unexpectedly rewarding and purposeful as the marijuana industry.  Or that I would get to help create the image and look of a sector with so much potential for success and innovation.  With my past as my best teacher, I know to fully embrace the changes coming in our industry, and all of their uncertainties.  This is a resilient industry full of dedicated and tenacious people who have been slowly chipping away at our Nation’s drug policy for decades.  I believe that we are all about to tip.