Not to state the obvious, but it’s becoming increasingly clear: Cannabis is becoming less of a counterculture preoccupation, comfortably settled on the societal fringes, and more of a beneficial necessity that’s part of the mainstream consciousness. That’s thanks, in part, to people like Megan Stone. She’s a cannabis-focused interior designer who’s elevating the retail-oriented landscape. A recipient of VMSD Magazine’s 2015 Designer Dozen Award, the Phoenix-based entrepreneur founded The High Road Design Studio in 2013. Megan sat down with PRØHBTD to talk about how she accidentally got into the business, what’s next and why she’s a cannabis purist.
How did you get into this business?
I came to this path in kind of a serendipitous way. I’m originally from Minnesota, and in 2007, the company I was working for relocated me to Palm Springs. I realized I was now living in a place with a medical marijuana law, so I went and got my card. I just knew I liked it! From doctor’s offices to dispensaries, I was amazed by how poor the experience was, how clandestine and shady it felt.
I moved to Newport Beach and started attending the Interior Designers Institute. I also started going to a new dispensary, Orange County’s Patient Care. The second time I went, the owner asked me if I wanted to be a budtender. I went home and bragged to all my friends I’d gotten offered a job selling pot legally, which was the coolest thing in the world to them. I took it solely as a fun, casual source of income, but I was there only a week and already in love with what was going on. The patients you see, people you work with, product you get to sell: I loved being a part of it.
As the dispensary grew, the owner gave me the opportunity to do some simple aesthetic upgrades, like paint the walls and switch out the floors. We were doing basic things, but people were already starting to call us “the Tiffany’s of dispensaries.” It was obvious these shops could be just as cool as, you know, the brewery or yogurt shop down the street. I was promoted to general manager. This was the same time Colorado and Washington were legalizing recreational. I realized this was my thing. I had a chance to invent my career and provide something this industry was going to need, if not soon, then very quickly. I stopped being a dispensary employee and started being a dispensary designer.
Tell us about what you do.
I’ve gotten to work with dispensary owners all across the country, getting to help them in all stages of the game. For instance, providing them with compliant floor plans and visuals so they can obtain a license and sell the image of a community-centered, professional dispensary to investors to designing custom display cases and procuring the furniture for my client’s completed projects.The dispensary is literally where the public comes in contact with the cannabis industry. By reinventing that experience to be something positive and connected is really important to the growth and sustainability of this industry, as opposed to something that’s put on the sidelines, the way strip clubs are.
What do you love about your job?
I do this because, for so many people, cannabis is life-changing and crucial to the quality of their lives and health—buying it should be an experience that reflects that. You look at the people going into a dispensary, and it’s kind of a cross-section of society, like a gas station. Everybody uses gas, and all walks of life use cannabis. The cannabis industry is really my entire life. I live and breathe this industry every minute of the day. I never thought that, when I took a job as a budtender, it could turn into a career or something I might share with a person I could potentially share my life with. It’s also really hard to predict stuff in this industry. Things happen really fast, and they’re constantly changing.
How do you see the business evolving in the next several years?
There’s a lot of innovation that’s happening, but there is plenty yet to come. When I worked in a dispensary five years ago, we didn’t have vape pen cartridges or eight different kinds of concentrate or infused coffees and teas. We had flower, hash, pre-rolls and brownies. The breadth of products and ways to take it, both medicinally and recreationally, has expanded so much. As the industry grows, especially in markets like California and Colorado, where cannabis truly is woven into the culture, it’s going to be cool to see true concept stores come out. You could have a specialized concentrate store or specialized edibles store, as these categories develop and become more sophisticated.
I think women are going to have an incredible impact on this industry—and I think we already are. The woman’s perspective and psychology have really been ignored in the history of cannabis, yet women are the ones who make the decisions on wellness for their families, they’re the ones who control spending in this category. Women are the ones who can truly benefit from what cannabis does and how it can be an alternative to alcohol or pharmaceuticals. Bringing the women’s demographic into this space is going to be critical. Women get shit done.
It’s still a proclamation in a way. People are still shocked sometimes when women talk about loving to smoke.
When I was a budtender, I used to constantly get asked if I smoke pot because I don’t look like the typical person who uses marijuana on a daily basis. People need to know that people like me do this, and we’re still intelligent, ambitious and have things to contribute to society. I try to embrace it because I know what I look like and what I do to help break down a stereotype.
Any current favorite products?
I’m so traditional. I’ve tried several times to give up my bubbler and flower and switch to vaporizing, and I’m just a purist I guess. There’s nothing that makes me feel as good as smoking the straight flower. I’ve got my favorite strains. I’m an OG lover; I love the head high with the relaxing body. I’m also a tried and true Blue Dream girl. There’s nothing that works better for me in the morning if I need help getting up and going.
How do you describe your aesthetic?
When given free rein, I’d say I have a modern aesthetic with kind of an elegant masculinity to it. I love doing things crisp and clean. I love color, but I like really neutral palettes with strong colors that help to accentuate certain things. I love incorporating images of the actual product into the space. I think the bud of pot is one of the most beautiful things you’ll ever see. If you can make it look like fine art, then you get a different perception of it.
What’s your fantasy project?
If I were to get a phone call today and hang up and say, “Oh my god, that’s my dream call,” it would probably be from someone who owns a store along the coast of California: Five miles from the beach, high-income, high-fashion, a sunny weather kind of place; the absolute pinnacle of boutique retail but with the cannabis plant as the product. I see it having storefront windows and a clean, bright palette with jewelry-style display cases—feminine touches without being alienating to men.