South Dakota’s first state-licensed pot dispensary ready to open

The co-owners are lifelong best friends who grew up together in Tea
Published: Jul. 25, 2022 at 8:10 PM CDT
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HARTFORD, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - South Dakota is nearing another milestone for medical marijuana.

Unity Rd. in Hartford is gearing to open its doors on Wednesday, making it the first state-licensed cannabis dispensary in the state’s history. It’s been a long time coming since 70 percent of South Dakota voters said “yes” to cannabis for medicinal use in November 2020.

While tribal-governed Native Nations Cannabis opened in Flandreau 10 months ago, Unity Rd. is expected to be a historic landmark for many of the 1,600 people in the state who are qualified to purchase the once-illegal drug.

“It’s going to be crazy,” said co-owner B.J. Wilson, taking a break from helping train clerks less than 48 hours from opening day.

“Our first couple days, we expect to see a lot of patients, and we’re going to do everything we can to move as many people through our facility to get the medicine they have wanted from the beginning.”

While the shop is part of a chain of dispensaries already open in Oklahoma and Colorado — and approved for over 300 stores nationwide — its owners are Sioux Falls area natives and very conscious of fitting in, and contributing to, the community of Hartford, a small but growing town of 3,300 just a few miles west of Sioux Falls.

“I’m honored and privileged for us to be cracking the doors and to be the first one to ease that negative persona (of marijuana)” said co-owner B.J. Olson, a Harford resident who worked in the corporate world with Verizon for 10 years before starting his own communication consulting business locally. Co-owner Adam Jorgensen also worked with Verizon’s corporate division, and for T-Mobile.

Unity Road is one of the first buildings you as you take the Interstate 90 exit into Hartford, part of the gateway to the city, and they realized from the start there are some who live in this Rockwellian hamlet who aren’t crazy about the new facility.

“I don’t think it’ll have near the negative impact that people are afraid of,” Olson said. “Statistically, if you look, the areas that have dispensaries are much safer than areas that don’t. The communities tend to be a bit nicer because the dispensaries are able to re-invest in these communities, so there’s a lot of really good things that are going to happen to these smaller communities when we turn on the lights.”

Olson and Jorgensen designed the navy-blue building, with orange “Unity Rd. Cannabis Store” signs, to look clean and non-descript on the outside and feel safe on the inside.

“I want their comfort level in our establishment being lateral to being at a grocery store,” Jorgensen said, “to being at a convenience store, to being, really at any retail store.”

The building is well-secured, with cameras watching every customer’s move. Jorgensen calls the interior “welcoming, light, bright,” and intended to be a family-friendly space created by a couple of lifelong best friends.

“I don’t know life without Adam,” Olson said. “We grew up in Tea together. High school best friends, college roommates. He was the best man in my wedding. I was the best man in his. We’re godfathers of each other’s kids.”

They first talked about opening a business together four years ago, and the only industry they had their sites on was marijuana selling, mainly because of the medicinal powers of cannabis.

“Our biggest thing is, ‘how can we help others,” Olson said. “How can we remove this negative persona of what cannabis really is and how can we help others get through whatever it is that’s holding them back from being the best possible people they can be.”

But it was a pie-in-the-sky dream until South Dakota voters overwhelmingly chose to make medical cannabis legal10 months ago. The new business partners got to work fast.

So how did they manage to win the race to become South Dakota’s first non-tribal store to open?

”We made the commitment to move forward with our building project prior to obtaining our certification that would allow us to legally to sell cannabis,” Jorgensen said. “However, by taking the chance, by staying diligent, we’d be controlling our parts that’s put us in this special spot.”

Part of getting and staying ahead of the over 20 current licensed dispensaries in the state was Olson and Jorgensen combining forces with the cultivator of the cannabis they would sell — Dakota Natural Solutions in Huron — which took the same risk.

But why did the two entrepreneurs decide to build this pioneering store in Hartford, a town of 3,300, instead of nearby Sioux Falls, with over 200,000?

”This is my community,” said Olson, who resides in Hartford and whose wife grew up there. “I have children that go to school here. I go to church with the people here. I shop here, and now, I hope to utilize this dispensary to bring a lot more resources to this community. I hope to help it grow. I hope to be involved with all the future activities and future events that we might be able to help with this community’s development.”

Olson said being just outside of Sioux Falls’ population base and being the first exit off the interstate west of the big city, “we can really bring awareness to Hartford. With the Amazon facility coming up and all the other big growth on the northwest side of Sioux Falls, Harford’s going to explode, and we are here to help that.”

There has been some pushback from Hartford residents who don’t want a shop that sells things like weed and bongs and pipes in town, even though there wasn’t any known protest from the public until Unity Rd. received its licenses to build and sell. Once that happened, detractors started showing up at the city council meetings. Olson’s response to them?

”This isn’t just dollar signs for me,” Olson said. “This is where I live. This is where I lay my head every night. So, doing this the right way is very important to me.”

He has encouraged cannabis opposers to sit down and talk with him as he explains the benefits of the plant.

“You can explain your views to me, and if we both agree to disagree, that’s totally fine,” Olson said. “But all I ask is that you have an open mind.”

Jorgensen said it is Unity Rd.’s “obligation” to change the perception of the marijuana industry, and he also wants the dispensary to be a place of resource for people who are still uncertain about how the whole medical marijuana process works.

“Education is a top priority,” Jorgensen said. “Education based on what certification is required with the South Dakota medical cannabis card, and helping those that have interest acquire medical cards. We do have regular communication with sources that are available locally in Sioux Falls.”

A good place to start, Jorgensen said, is

Jorgensen and Olson are excited and have called the last two years “an incredible journey, but “it has not always been blue skies and rainbows.”

Supply chain issues halted the completion of the facilities where the plants are manufactured, which has delayed. Government red tape required to have a medical cannabis business up to code — from building permits to sales licenses — is beyond anything the owners of these dispensaries have every known or could imagine in any other industry.

“It’s been extremely challenging to get the product in,” Olson said. “These cultivators went through every hoop, just like we did. I mean, this process has been just a game of hopscotch. You jump one step forward, two steps back the entire time. It’s been extremely difficult for Adam and I to get into this business, and I can only imagine how much more difficult it has been for the cultivators and the manufacturers and the testing labs. There’s four segments to this cannabis business. We’re only one small piece of that.”

But the local Unity Rd. owners expect South Dakota’s breakthrough marijuana store to have a mammoth turnout on Wednesday and in the weeks to come.

”We’ve been getting calls and voicemails and messages from people all over the state. People who are going to be coming from several hundred miles. We know what sort of impact this is going to make for those people who are suffering, and the time is now. It’s finally here.”

The only form of cannabis available initially will be the flower version, the pure plant. The kind you smoke through a pipe, a joint, or a bong. Edibles, like gummies, and oils will not be available for another three to five weeks.

Olson notes that if qualified patients are impatient about consuming cannabis in edible and oil forms, they can legally take the flower version they buy at Unity Rd. and make it into whatever form they want to use.

“They’ve been waiting for over a year and a half for this moment, and to be able to provide them the relief they need and they deserve and that they voted on, that they requested, is going to be tremendous.

“We’ve been getting virtual high-5′s from people. It’s been absolutely incredible.”

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