First dispensary in downtown STL opens this week as state prepares for recreational sales

Published: Jan. 23, 2023 at 6:22 PM CST
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) - Amidst the sounds of construction in an ever-growing Downtown West neighborhood is where the St. Louis downtown region’s first marijuana dispensary now calls home.

“It’s about four years in the making, so we’re just excited. Bringing in the staff, training everybody, [and] getting the final inventory in,” Dan Pettigrew, Managing Partner at Viola STL, said.

Viola STL, also the Downtown region’s first black-owned dispensary, was set to have its grand opening Monday. However, because of additional finishing touches needed for the space, the co-founders tell News 4 they plan to open to patients with medical marijuana cards starting Tuesday.

“Customer service is very important as a retail location, and we kind of want to get all the hiccups out of the way,” said Pettigrew.

The facility’s opening comes about two weeks away from when licensed marijuana dispensaries that have applied and been approved for a comprehensive license can begin selling marijuana to adults 21 and up for recreational use.

“The biggest thing again for us is just ensuring that it’s purchased and possessed lawfully and safely and kept out of the hands of kids,” said Lisa Cox, director of communications for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

Ninety-seven percent of licensed medical marijuana dispensaries in the state have applied for their comprehensive license to sell recreationally next month, with only about six total dispensaries that still have not submitted an application. Cox says now that the Secretary of State has filed rules for adult use marijuana sales, they can begin the process of approving dispensary applications.

“That was the main hurdle; we wanted to get the rules filed before facilities were approved for comprehensive licenses so they would know what’s required of them to operate,” said Cox. “We do need to approve or deny by February 6, so that is the plan at this point.”

Cox says if a license is approved, it’s possible a dispensary could begin legal adult-use marijuana sales even sooner, as long as they receive that approval.

While dispensaries like Viola STL continue catering to an existing population of medicinal users, they anticipate the experience will be similar when they can start selling to all adult recreational users.

“You still have to have the same number of employees working in the facility,” said Jamil Taylor, co-founder of Viola STL. “Products will be very similar if not the same. And so, I think from an operational standpoint...we run a very tight ship here [from] checking IDs, talking about the products, and being very knowledgeable.”

The dispensary plans to open a second store in the Cherokee district for drive-through and pickup ordering this coming Friday.

For now, they hope to employ a minimum of 20 people at each location to maximize the customer experience when the sale of recreational marijuana begins next month. In the long term, they plan to recruit and train around 200 people from the St. Louis community for their cultivation and manufacturing facility.

Also, in being the first black-owned dispensary Downtown and located close to the new soccer stadium, they hope to improve diversity in the marijuana industry and work to foster a stronger relationship with the St. Louis soccer community as well as the police department right next door.

“We’re huge soccer fans, so we really want to support them, and we really want to cheer them on and participate as fans,” said Pettigrew. “For the police, we just want to work in tandem and be neighborly more than anything else. We want to serve our community, and that’s just a big part of our corporate philosophy, so we’re just excited about the opportunity to contribute to the neighborhood. From basic things, security, cleaning to charitable things.”