For many in the cannabis industry, their profession is closely tied to their “why in life” or their purpose. Most of our ties to this plant started beyond our current experience within the industry. For Dockside Cannabis in Seattle, the ties to cannabis long extend before the recreational i502 initiative. Since its inception in 2011, the business has been committed to both the plant and the community it serves.
For Aaron Varney, it all started as a passion for cultivating cannabis. At one point, his license plate was flagged at a local grow supply store. After which, his house was raided by SWAT. He knew he loved cultivating, so he moved into the medical market to be able to cultivate with proper legal protection. Eventually, he was even able to grow in the same house that was once raided.
Once he began growing medicinal cannabis, he was directly connected to patient care. This took his day-to-day tasks from cultivating and knowing general consumers to having daily discussions with MS patients, cancer patients, and those with mild to life-altering ailments. These experiences took his personal passion and connected it to a higher purpose, which was fostering a healthy relationship between humans and cannabis.
The Medical Era
Dockside Co-op opened their doors in 2011 with the mission to serve patients. From 2011-2015, they built their organization within an area that wasn’t competitive for the bottom line, but instead solely focused on patient care. They remained open under the medical proposition up until the very last day possible in Washington State. Upon realizing the inevitable future of medical patients being forgotten in the transition to recreational legalization, Dockside aimed to be a beacon of patient care until the end of time.
“We didn’t get into cannabis for recreation. We were here to be value-based, serve patients, and for the freedom around the plant. In order to serve these patients with the continuity of the new market, we felt it was in our best interest to move over to rec,” says Varney.
The Recreational Era
Dockside transitioned into the recreational cannabis industry with essentially the same name to continue its presence in the community and make the transition for their patients as seamless as possible. What started with three owners in 2011, now employs over 70 employees. And guess what? The same three owners steer the ship to this day. How many cannabis companies have had a partnership last that long? I’d wager there aren’t many.
For Varney specifically, he got into cannabis to cultivate. Medical legislation unlocked the ability to become a budtender and meet patients. However, as a I-502 license holder in Washington State, you can only pick one side of the fence. While his personal passion lay in touching the plant, Varney and his partners believed they could better serve the greater community on the retail level.
Coming from the medical era and having such an intimate relationship with patients, the founders knew who truly needed, not only the medicinal benefits of cannabis, but also education and proper budtending experiences. The experience with these patients gave their staff the ability to understand how to serve those that are seeking relief. They quickly discovered that women, professionals, and elders weren’t the focus of many shops. Dockside was able to create an environment that welcomed these folks, patients, and anyone else seeking cannabis and education surrounding the plant. Whether you’re looking for the right product for you or have a sick grandma, this staff has plenty of experience serving each demographic of individuals.
When Dockside opened their doors, it was understood between the founders that they would be going into “business for the common good.” Meaning they’d measure the success of their business by what it does aside from just financially. “We want to have a triple bottom line: financial, environmental, and for the community,” Aaron said. With the community at large in mind, they were one of the first two dispensaries in the country to get the patient’s first program certification via Americans for Safe Access, a nationwide non-profit, 3rd party certification. It helped them upgrade their processes and mindset to put patient safety first.
Working with that program allowed them to work with growers and push the mindset that, “this isn’t for the hustle; this is for the patients. We can give you the names and conditions for who will consume this flower,” Varney explained. Overall, their focus on community and patient-first mentality drove them to stop focusing on how they could be the best in the industry. Instead, Dockside continues to ask themselves, to this day, “how can we be the best for the industry.”
How To Rate and Serve Weed
What was once patients seeking care is now a consumer group littered with various demographics. Many are seeking high THC numbers and best cost value or seeking specific flavors. Since day one, Dockside has sought to educate on the principles of what is quality and what really drives the experience. Where most seek to discuss sativa and indica, Varney mentions, “experience includes the whole plant constituents. I’d rather ask a consumer, what flavor do you like? Instead of talking about THC percentage.”
Aaron elaborated, “as a budtender, I know our inventory but I’m not an expert on you. I’m not qualified to tell you what’s right for you until we’ve dealt with each other for a while. So, it’s about guiding patients and consumers. The best thing we can do is accurately describe what we have and find your preferences.”
If you were to ask 10 different consumers what they believe makes cannabis “quality” to them, you may get ten completely different answers. While you can’t control or guess an individual’s endocannabinoid system or preferences, you can educate, guide, and ask consumers questions to best serve them.
Ultimately, if a customer doesn’t like what they purchase in store, Dockside has a satisfaction guarantee that falls under their 15-day exchange policy. If a customer takes something home, and it doesn’t work out, for whatever reason, they can bring it back. While this is being abused now by some consumers, Dockside is currently committed to having their staff educate and recommend products and build trust outside of THC percentage. “This gives our staff the freedom, empowerment, and confidence to guide consumers to find quality,” Varney said.
Exploring What Makes Quality Cannabis Through Ganjier Program
While Varney’s professional start was in the Washington State medical era, he originally began in the legacy market. Aaron’s personal exploration into what makes cannabis “quality” has now even extended past his work within Dockside. Currently, he’s part of the council for the Ganjier program to help elevate his palate. While any legacy smoker has a well-defined pallet as part of the gig, Varney saw value in not only further education but simply being around others talking, learning, and exploring more about cannabis as an experience.
The culture is always seeking new flavors, variations, and improved batches of strains they already like. Yet this question of how we can universally discuss quality cannabis in a way we understand has been on Varney’s mind for years. He claims the Ganjier program is one of the first experiences he’s found where individuals get together and really dive in on all things quality in a controlled environment.
Some companies lean into the sativa, indica, and hybrid conversation. However, Varney claims “To do a true quality assessment, you should have a broad understanding of terpenes, growing methods, strain’s history, and a tool to help standardize grading cannabis.” The program creates a process on the way connoisseurs sync up to talk about and grade cannabis, creating a 3rd party assessment that is all about quality, and isn’t about being a paid review.
As part of the Ganjier program, Aaron teaches a class on The Business of Successful Cannabis Sales. You preview this course below, and find more information on how you can be a certified Ganjier by clicking here.
Legacy to Now, Community Matters
The commerce, community, and culture of cannabis pre-dates the existing recreational market. As we move into the now, it’s important for many to preserve pieces of what was. Dockside has been serving patients for over a decade. The ownership crew, including Varney, have seen it progress through the eras while painting a purpose to put community first.
“Cannabis has always been a community activity and being about coming together. It was built on trust and seeking community. In medical days, the community was just as much about healing as the plant. A short visit in the medical days with a patient was 25 minutes. It was about people getting to know people. There was so much compassion. You’re dealing with people with ailments and maybe not financially there, but they came to be seen, heard, and seek healing.” Aaron Varney passionately emphasized, “We see the value of every person and this plant brings us together.”
What started as a passion to grow and consume cannabis has evolved into a passion to serve others. Yet, cannabis will always serve as a point of self-reflection. Many consumers and patients credit using cannabis as a way to look inward. Aaron Varney also looks at the foundation of the industry as a whole and cultivating in this way. “The plant is like a mirror. If your personal life is struggling, your grow is probably going to struggle. If you’re the person that you want to be, your grow is likely on the same page. I found a personal connection with the plant.”