Sunnyside dispensaries, Cresco Labs’ first national retail brand, is a multi-state operation dedicated to normalizing the cannabis buying experience.
Cresco Labs is a cannabis cultivation, manufacturing and distribution company involved in the “seeds-to-sales process,” according to its website. This means they grow, extract, and package all of their products.
Aside from this, Cresco Labs has ventured into the retail side of the industry with its series of Sunnyside dispensaries.
Jason Erkes, chief communications officer for Sunnyside, said the dispensaries are trying to break stigma around cannabis use.
“We want someone walking into a Sunnyside to feel the same focusing on their wellness as they would walking into a GNC or Whole Foods,” said Erkes.
Creating a Familiar Buying Experience
Cresco Labs created Sunnyside with the goal of building an atmosphere that feels more like a Walgreens rather than a cannabis free-for-all. There aren’t loose products and jars filled with buds sitting on the counter here.
“[Products are] pre-packaged or child safety sealed, [and] they’re tamper-evident,” said Erkes. “It’s a very familiar buying experience to walk down the aisle at a local pharmacy or drugstore for what you’re buying.”
As such, Sunnyside stocks its shelves with Cresco Labs-made products. Those include gummies, capsules, tinctures, topicals and other smoke-free ways to medicate. With various products available, Sunnyside offers ways for consumers to use cannabis like they would vitamins.
“Once you get that mental picture out of your head of someone [holding] a roach clip, hitting a joint, it helps normalize how things are sold,” said Erkes.
Sunnyside is also normalizing the buying experience by placing its dispensaries in high traffic retail locations.
“We have [stores] in the state of Illinois [that] are located right next to Starbucks or are in the same plaza as a Starbucks,” said Erkes. “When your store is located next to a Starbucks, people don’t think there’s anything wrong attached to walking into it.”
“The Sunnyside concept really stands for that welcoming feeling you get when you see the sun,” said Erkes. “But [it is] also [about] moving out of the dark shadows of where dispensaries historically [have] been.”
With 15 dispensaries in six states, Sunnyside is planting seeds of opportunity in communities across the country. Their goal is to welcome diverse groups of people into the professional cannabis industry.
As part of this mission, Cresco Labs created the Social Equity and Education Development (SEED) Initiative. The initiative focuses on helping communities most impacted by the War on Drugs enter the cannabis industry. It does this through three pillars: restorative justice, business incubation, and workforce development. The purchases consumers make at Sunnyside help fund the SEED Initiative.
Along with the initiative, Cresco Labs is also spreading its message with Sunnyside dispensaries.
The initiative works to empower communities through social equity, higher-level education and business and workforce development services, according to Erkes.
The initiative’s restorative justice efforts focus on providing expungements and legal aid services. Additionally, Cresco Labs provides pathways for social equity applicants to have ownership and stakes in the cannabis industry, said Erkes.
The SEED Initiative also works with universities and colleges to create cannabis curriculums that build future workforces.
“Our curriculum is in five or seven colleges and universities around the country where we’ve helped them develop everything from agriculture classes to growing to the business aspect of cannabis [and] how to operate a dispensary,” said Erkes. “We’ve had a lot of success creating that curriculum. All that really does is help people get an education in an industry that is the fastest growing industry in the country.”
SEED also offers a community business incubator program that supports minority-owned cannabis businesses. The program provides financial assistance to entrepreneurs and helps them create operation, security and real estate plans, according to Erkes.
“These dispensary [applications] are 800 pages when they’re done, and they go into very intricate details,” said Erkes. “Someone who doesn’t work in this industry would really have a hard time forecasting and answering how they plan to operate. So we provide a lot of guidance.”
Making a Measurable Impact
SEED has invested more than $397,931 in restorative justice efforts, and supplied $135,000 to the community business incubator program. SEED also contributed an additional $325,989 to education and workforce development initiatives so far, according to the website.
And Cresco Labs does not plan on slowing down.
“You can’t operate a business legally without taking care of the people that might have operated that same business illegally a short time ago, but are paying the price for it,” said Erkes. “We really want to help create opportunity for those communities and provide opportunities not just for employment but equity in this industry.”