Seattle native fulfills dream by opening Mitchell's first medical marijuana dispensary
May 16—MITCHELL — Standing behind a glass case filled with an assortment of medicinal marijuana packages, a big smile grew across Jordon Raftis' face as he explained the products inside his dispensary.
Since Raftis jumped into the marijuana industry nearly a decade ago, it's been the Seattle native's dream to open his own dispensary. This spring, Raftis opened a medical cannabis dispensary on the south edge of Mitchell, making it the city's first legal marijuana business to open its doors.
"I got a job as a budtender in 2015 at a Seattle dispensary the day after I turned 21. My goal, I said in my interview back then, was to open my own store. And here it is," said Raftis, a budding 28-year-old cannabis entrepreneur. "It's been eight years in the making for me."
Tucked in a corner suite of a strip mall near Walmart, Superior Buds dispensary blends in like the rest of the retail stores that fill the building. However, it's unlike any business inside the strip mall.
For Raftis to open, he had to comply with a wide set of regulations that the city of Mitchell adopted after South Dakota voters approved legalizing medical marijuana during the 2020 election.
With a logo depicting an aerial view of Lake Superior plastered on the exterior of the building, it's the only signage that indicates a new business is occupying a once vacant suite.
The discreet signage and business name was chosen by design and by law. As part of the city's regulations for medical cannabis dispensaries to operate in Mitchell, marijuana establishments cannot display the words "cannabis" or "marijuana." The signage rule is just one example of the many regulations that Raftis has to comply with to do business.
"We can't go on traditional advertising platforms and advertise, so we have to rely on word-of-mouth. We can put our business on Leafly and Weed Maps, which are cannabis specific websites, but that's really it," Raftis said of the strict advertising rules.
Upon entering the dispensary, patrons are greeted at a check-in lobby next to two secured doors that separate the retail floor where marijuana products are on display. This allows staff to check a patron's medical marijuana card, which must be presented to enter the store.
"We check their driver's license and medical card every time and put it into the state's URL link to validate it. We can't have more than 10 customers on the sale's floor at once, which hasn't been a problem so far," Raftis said.
While abiding by the regulations has come with a new set of challenges for Raftis, who ventured into the industry in a state that was one of the country's first to legalize recreational marijuana, he said business has been good in the first couple months. He's welcomed and assisted a wide variety of customers inside his Mitchell storefront who have found cannabis as a remedy for health issues.
"For a lot of people who are dealing with a lot of pain and may be looking to get off some prescription medications like opiates, this is a very great alternative. We get people who come in here who are older and have been fighting to legally purchase this for a long time, and they'll say it's crazy they can finally purchase it legally," Raftis said of some of the interactions he's had with customers.
The Seattle native got his start in the cannabis industry shortly after Washington state legalized recreational marijuana use. He started out as a salesman working the retail floor of a dispensary in Seattle and quickly climbed his way to upper managerial positions. Raftis also owns a consulting firm that helps aspiring marijuana entrepreneurs develop business plans, aid them in navigating state and federal regulations and prepare budgets.
When South Dakota legalized medical cannabis, Raftis saw Mitchell as an emerging marijuana market with "a lot of growth potential." He was the first applicant to secure a Mitchell dispensary license in 2021, and he's proud to say he's the first to open.
"I love Mitchell. It's a beautiful city and state. It's kind of a hidden gem, and I see a lot of potential for the industry here," he said.
As South Dakota's cannabis industry is in its early stages, Raftis has had to quickly connect himself with marijuana growers in the state. Due to federal laws prohibiting any marijuana products being transported across state lines, Raftis is required to purchase his inventory he sells from approved South Dakota growers.
Raftis said there have been a steady number of growers sprouting up across the state, and some of those new products can be seen at his dispensary with a brief description of the company behind the production of the plants.
"The growers couldn't plant their seeds until March last year. There just wasn't a lot of product out there, but as the industry grows there will be more manufactures and products available, which will help stabilize the pricing and give more variety," Raftis said. "We like to have a little variety."
As the industry expands, so too will the competition. And Raftis could soon see some competition in Mitchell.
There are five dispensary license holders in the city, including a group from Missouri that's planning to open a production facility and dispensary inside the former Runnings building along Burr Street and a South Dakota-based cannabis company that's in the process of transforming a vacant building into a dispensary. The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe and a local businessman also have dispensary licenses.
Will demand be great enough in Mitchell for potentially five dispensaries operating at once? Raftis is skeptical. By opening his store ahead of the other dispensaries, he's confident that the clientele he's built will remain strong regardless of new stores opening.
According to the state's Department of Health, there were 9,836 medical marijuana card holders in the state as of Monday.
While more states have legalized medical and recreational marijuana for adults over the past few years, the plant remains criminalized at the federal level.
Regardless of what the legal future holds for marijuana, Raftis is committed to continue advocating for the industry that's provided him a viable career.
"Until it's federally legal, we're still going to be fighting that fight," he said.