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Even while combating a saturated market and heavy taxation, Washington dispensary owner Leroy Duane Dunn wants other cannabis business owners to succeed.

Located in Tacoma, Washington, Emerald Leaves is a thriving community-oriented dispensary. The 5,500 square foot shop used to be a landmark piano bar called Chopsticks and still retains the unique signage. Before the pandemic, Dunn’s team were working on community engagements: coat and school supplies drives for kids and canned food drives. Dunn plans to continue these activities once Tacoma lifts COVID-19 restrictions.

Before getting into the cannabis industry, Dunn attended Kentucky State University, a historically Black college. He graduated with a BA in Computer Science and Business Management and worked in IT. Like many people in the industry, he first became interested in cannabis when a family member got sick. “What kind of got me into it was my sister, who passed away. She had pancreatic cancer,” Dunn explained to MJ Brand Insights. Dunn began growing cannabis in his garage. He eventually started supplying some of the nearby medical facilities, and once recreational licenses became available, he applied.

Dunn had been leading a team for a friend at a medical dispensary in Tacoma. After his friend’s dispensary closed, Dunn was selected for a recreational cannabis license in 2014 and brought the team to work at Emerald Leaves. “The recreational application fee at the time was $250, which is unheard of now,” Dunn said.

Upon entering the retail industry, Dunn learned how rare it was for a Black man to own a dispensary. (According to Washington’s Liquor and Cannabis Board, 1% of cannabis producers and processors in the state self-identify as Black, while around 3% of retail licenses are majority Black owned.)

“I found out that in this industry, especially in Washington state, there’s a lack of diversity as a whole,” Dunn said. He emphasizes that diversity should have been a priority from day one. But now that the market has been operating for several years, it’s saturated and the margins are thin. “It’s a volume game at this point,” Dunn explained. “And the shops that have multiple stores have more purchasing power than single shops like Emerald Leaves.”

Even if  Washington’s social equity task force succeeds in building a better equity program, Dunn thinks the state’s high tax rates will make it difficult for small minority-owned businesses to survive. He says small cannabis businesses will have a better shot at survival if the Liquor Control Board decreases taxes from 37% to 25%. This is something he’s working to change. 

“I’m trying to align myself with the people politically that make the decisions for the Liquor Control Board,” Dunn explained. “Because there has to be something that can be done that will allow these businesses to succeed.”

Since Dunn got into the business, both he and his mother were diagnosed with cancer. This brought him deeper into learning about the wide range of products now available to manage pain and discomfort. Bringing these products to his community is a top priority. His first-hand experience treating his family’s health problems now helps him guide consumers toward the right purchases for their unique needs.

Aside from building community, Dunn says the Emerald Leaves team focuses on providing the best possible retail experience. He believes the secret to success is hiring the most knowledgeable budtenders while providing a safe and effective product at an affordable price.

Emerald Leaves is located at 2702 6th Avenue in Tacoma, Washington

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