At a dispensary in northeast Portland, the lines flow quickly making brisk business of the dwindling supply of cannabis products. A dry-erase board lists the many types of cannabis, like Cannatonic, Cinex and Medi-Haze, that are out of stock. The options slowly dwindle as the man in the line in front asks the budtender what strain is good for sleep, which one for work, what for headaches and what’s the difference between indica and sativa, THC and CBD. By the time you reach the front, nothing you wanted is left, so you settle for something else, or nothing at all. It can be a problem.
“Cannabis dispensaries are an amazing experience for people who are unfamiliar with the product,” said Joel Milton, CEO and cofounder of the Baker app. “However, if you are familiar with the product, you don’t want to be behind this person in line.”
Baker is a web-app with a mission to help bring safe and convenient cannabis consumption to everyone in the country. It allows users to order ahead at dispensaries, reserve products, skip the line and earn loyalty and special rewards. The idea for Baker was inspired by one of Milton’s colleagues who, tired of waiting in long lines at Colorado’s booming cannabis dispensaries, told Milton the experience could use some improvement.
Milton, who spent five years running and advising tech start-ups, then teamed up with Roger Obando and David Champion, who quickly put together a rough business plan. The team flew to Denver, and after signing up the first three dispensaries that agreed to meet, they realized they were on to something.
“People really love the ability to reserve a product and know that it’s waiting there for them and it won’t be sold out,” Milton said. “They can get in and get out and have a pain-free shopping experience.”
An experience that is quickly expanding with over 30 locations in Colorado, a half-dozen in Oregon and recently their first dispensary in California.
“We want to make it easier and more enjoyable for people to purchase cannabis,” Milton said. “There are a couple different types of people who fall into that category. There are the regular customers who kind of just know what they want who don’t need to walk in a store and be waiting in line behind tourists who don’t know the difference between indica and sativa and how many milligrams [they] should eat at a time for edibles.”
Then there are the medical patients who struggle to get their medicine, like one Baker user who wrote in thanking them for their service.
“I have back problems, so it would be so frustrating to check what the dispensary has online and struggle to drive there to find they ran out of what I wanted,” the customer wrote. “The fact that I can send an order from my phone and get a text if it’s there and have it held for me is amazing!”
The web-app, while free to users, charges dispensaries a monthly fee that may eventually change to a revenue-sharing model similar to Airbnb or Uber.
“It allows [dispensary owners] to give their VIP customers a nice shopping experience, give them loyalty rewards and improve their operations around the store,” Milton said. “Instead of getting 50 phone calls a day asking what’s in stock, we automate all of that to make for a better operational experience from the dispensary end.”
When asked if he has used Baker, Milton responded with a laugh.
“I’m a big believer in the product,” Milton said. “Personally, it’s not something I do all day every day, but I think there’s very much a time and place for it for me personally. But more so, I believe that it should be accessible for everybody.”
This is a belief that makes this venture more politically charged than others, taking aim at unfair laws and large pharmaceutical companies that spend billions on advertising.
“I think it’s ridiculous that there are people in jail for buying and selling cannabis,” Milton said. “It’s terrible that there are people who need it for medical reasons that are allowed to take OxyContin but aren’t allowed to get legal safe cannabis. It’s terrible that there are people who take Xanax because they’re stressed out because they don’t feel comfortable or don’t have access to cannabis. I believe as people become more aware and care about and understand what is going through their bodies, there will start to be a bit of a pushback against Pharma. People [will continue to] realize not all pills are good for you. Because some Big Pharma company spent a billion dollars on advertising convincing everyone they are, it doesn’t mean it’s actually true.”
“Part of the reason, unfortunately, that [cannabis] is still taboo is because of smear campaigns,” Milton continued. “We want to do everything possible to remove the stigma of purchasing cannabis and make it feel like a professional experience.”
Technology continues to make these transactions more transparent, accessible and immediate. An app that streamlines the purchasing and consumption of cannabis seems only natural in Baker’s mission to shift the way people think about purchasing cannabis.
“It’s about making the buyer not feel like you’re standing at the dispensary in line to buy drugs, but that you’re doing something that everyone should be able to consume,” Milton concluded. “Because it’s not a bad thing.”