Story Type: News Feature
Vehicle: Syndicated newspapaer
Strategy: When covering a sticky subject, let the subject convey the message.
By Phil Favorite
At a recent networking event for members of the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce, Al Ochosa arrived ready to spread his gospel.
“I was wearing a black suit and a white shirt. I had my nametag that said, ‘Al, Divine Kind,’” Ochosa says. “I think a lot of people thought I was part of a ministry because of the name.”
But Ochosa had a different sort of message to share — he came as an advocate for the responsible use of cannabis. It’s a big part of his role as director of retail operations at Divine Kind, a medical and recreational marijuana dispensary just outside of Lake Oswego at 8601 S.W. Terwilliger Blvd. in Portland.
Divine Kind is one of the newest members of the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce, and the networking event provided the first exposure for some of the businesses to Ochosa and the operation he represents. The store opened in January 2014 as a medical marijuana dispensary, but business has really picked up since Oct. 1, when Divine Kind’s recreational-use operation opened.
“I did my elevator speech and I couldn’t get everybody to stop giggling,” he says. “Part of it was a nervous giggle and probably half of it was a celebratory giggle. There’s always going to be that split. But whether you like to consume or not, there has to be some common sense to the thing.”
That Ochosa’s presence at the networking event caused a bit of a stir is not a surprise, given Lake Oswego’s current ban on marijuana dispensaries. That ban is set to expire next May, although the City Council is expected to reconsider an ordinance first proposed in September that would extend the ban and refer the issue to voters on the November 2016 ballot.
“I have strong reservations about locating a retail marijuana facility in Lake Oswego, and I know others who feel the same way,” Mayor Kent Studebaker told The Review this week. “That is why I want council to vote to submit the issue to the voters in November 2016.”
Current city code “prohibits issuing licenses for businesses whose activities violate any law — state, federal or local,” according to City Attorney David Powell. Dozens of cities and counties across the state have created similar caveats in their laws, but Portland has not — and as one of the west side’s southern-most dispensaries, Divine Kind finds itself well situated to serve a suburban clientele.
Ochosa says he’s already seen all kinds of different customers come into his store and many from Lake Oswego, from couples on their way to a weekend at the coast to “business people from Kruse Way.”
Having worked in Lake Oswego as an insurance executive in the past, Ochosa says he joined the Chamber of Commerce in an effort to reach out to the community.
“I’ve always considered the LO chamber to be a very strong chamber,” he says. “That was one of the things that I wanted to make sure I had on my punch list when I first started — to join the chamber as soon as possible. When I filled out my online application the first week here, there was no business category we could fit in. I filled it out under wellness centers, but they eventually created a marijuana dispensaries category for us.”
Keith Dickerson, the chamber’s executive director, says there was no question about admitting Devine Kind. The chamber will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the dispensary on Nov. 19. At Ochosa’s request, the event will begin at 4:20 p.m.
“What they are doing is legal,” Dickerson says. “When we’re approached by an interested party, as long as they’re undertaking a legal business, our bylaws oblige us to accept their membership.”
That was the right decision, according to City Councilor Joe Buck, who says “having a marijuana dispensary join the chamber to begin speaking to the public about this new industry is part of the process of learning what place, if any, retail outlets will have in Lake Oswego.”
“Marijuana is a part of our society and will soon be even more mainstream. Therefore, teaching responsible use will be imperative, whether or not dispensaries are located within our town,” says Buck, who voted in September to put the issue to voters in 2016. “While voters in LO approved the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, the question of locating dispensaries here remains less black and white. Nevertheless, to bury our heads in the sand would be a huge mistake, and I am glad to see our new chamber member leading the way in educating the public.”
Ochosa admits he may have caught some of the folks at the networking event off guard. But he says that comes with the territory.
“I’m not the stereotypical person you would think to run a dispensary,” he says. “But for a long time, I’ve been a strong advocate and educator in this community. I’m trying to better educate people about cannabis and responsible use. One thing I’ve come to realize over the last month is that half the state voted for this, so it’s the other half we’re trying to change the hearts and minds of.”
At Divine Kind, the line between the medical and recreational operations is well drawn. Each has its own separate entrance, with the medical sales staff on the upper level and the recreational retail operation downstairs.
It’s an important distinction, Ochosa said, because many of the cannabis products available to medical patients — including oils, edibles and vapor apparatus — are not yet legally available to recreational users. Retail customers only can purchase limited amounts of dried leaves, flowers (marijuana buds), seeds and immature plants.
On the recreational retail side, Divine Kind sales associates are called “bud tenders.” On the medical side, they’re called “patient care representatives.”
“I really like our dispensary’s focus on our medical patients,” Ochosa says. “They’re two separate segments with two separate sets of needs and two separate sets of expectations. On the medical side, you have folks that have very specific conditions that demand the attention and the time afforded them for a personal consultation. Medical customers are looking for the best medicine they can find and the most knowledgeable people they can find, and also a welcoming and exciting facility to visit.
“On the recreational side, they’re looking to have a little more fun,” he says. “Now that it’s legal, they’re able to shop around and try different things. It’s all about the customer experience, just like when you go shopping at Nordstrom instead of Fred Meyer. You want to be able to have that experience, yet still expect competitive pricing and a wide selection of available product.”
According to Ochosa, business is booming. He said projected October sales are quadruple those of the previous month, and he said he doesn’t expect things to slow down anytime soon.
His goal, he says, is to make Divine Kind a “destination dispensary,” hosting events such as art openings, musical performances and expert talks that promote awareness of the operation, its products and services.
“We really need to push education and advocacy,” Ochosa says. “We have so many new recreational customers coming out of the woodwork, whether they’re daily users just looking for a new place to buy, or people that are just trying it for the first time, or folks that haven’t partaken in 20 years.
“That’s the exciting thing about what’s happening right now. It touches everybody,” he says. “Not just folks who have really bad physical issues, or professionals that may want an alternative to alcohol. I’m seeing everybody.”
Impact: Because of the timeliness and subject matter, this story received remarkable attention. It was heavily shared on social media, promoted by the newspaper’s website and went viral on industry-related sites.
Post-script: “Phil really hit the nail on the head. He did a great job of relaying our message and I’ve been proud to share the story with a lot of people. And seeing it get picked up by Newslocker, Geonews, etc. CRAZY!” — Al Ochosa, Director of Retail Operations, Divine Kind Inc.