Most small businesses experience their biggest rush during the holiday season from November through December. But for Michael Sims, co-owner and co-founder of Crowntown Cannabis, there’s one day out of the year more hectic than Black Friday: 4/20.
“It’s always busy,” he said.
This year, it’ll only get busier. As Crowntown Cannabis celebrates four years in business, the team has several new projects on the horizon including mobile dispensaries, and a line of cannabis-infused ice creams and slushies that they will serve from their fourth location: Charlotte’s first cannabis consumption lounge.
The lounge, located in the former NoDa Yoga space above Cabo Fish Taco, will be a bar-like shop where CBD and Delta 8 devotees can consume their favorite cannabis-infused products.
“I wanted to give the Charlotte scene a little something different,” Sims said.
There is no shortage of bars, breweries and alcohol-forward hangouts in Charlotte. But if you don’t drink, enjoying Charlotte’s nightlife can sometimes be a challenge.
Enter the Crowntown Cannabis lounge.
In the daytime, the building will function as a shop for curious customers. In the evening, it will sell a blend of mocktails, food and cannabis products for onsite consumption.
“I wanted to emulate that [bar] setting, but instead where people can safely enjoy cannabis and each other’s company,” he said.
It would be the first place in Charlotte to do so. Though it’s an ambitious project, Crowntown is used to playing the role of pioneer.
Four 4/20s ago, then operating as Charlotte CBD, launched its sales website, then opened its first location on Central Avenue, one of the city’s first cannabinoid dispensaries.
The move was a risk for Sims, who had previously worked in towing and bail bonds, but it’s a risk that appears to have paid off: The business has evolved dramatically over the past four years. They’ve added non-CBD products to their inventory, including Delta 8, which he said now accounts for around 80% of his sales.
The founders trademarked a new name in 2021 and have opened two new locations — one in Concord and another in Columbia, South Carolina. They’ve experimented with similarly enterprising ventures, most recently by installing Crowntown Cannabis vending machines in bars throughout the Charlotte area.
It’s become something of a tradition for the company to announce its newest projects on April 20, and 2022 is no different.
Sims and his team will provide a sneak peek of their new cannabis lounge on April 20. The lounge will be open for passersby to sample cannabis-infused slushies.
Crowntown plans to move forward with a soft opening by May 20.
The hope is to introduce cannabis-infused slushies and soft serve in time for summer. Though the project is still in the works, Sims has already heard a lot of support from customers throughout the Charlotte area.
“It’s bittersweet to see that much support and love,” he said. “You realize that Charlotte’s needed this all along.”
Crowntown Cannabis blows through obstacles
Though Crowntown is a force in Charlotte’s cannabis scene, its viability is tested every day.
“It’s a humbling place to be in, but it’s also very uncertain,” Sims said. “It doesn’t leave for very much rest or sleep.”
There are a multitude of factors complicating Sims’ ability to run a cannabis business. Financial management can be a challenge; bank accounts and company cards are often subject to arbitrary cancellation because the business sells hemp products. Shopify, a small-business purchasing platform, recently banned sales on cannibinoids, blocking cannabis businesses like Crowntown from accepting credit cards and debit cards.
These restrictions inevitably force many businesses to use cash — a move that leaves them vulnerable to theft.
“We’re one of the few that still have processing,” Sims said.
Crowntown Cannabis itself is on its “third or fourth” bank, according to Sims, after facing legal roadblocks with others.
Even the basic building blocks of business — like establishing an online presence or renting a brick-and-mortar storefront — present daily challenges. Many property owners have refused to lease to the business despite their steady success.
“Google always blocks us and bans us, Facebook and Instagram always ban us,” he said. “It’s a day-to-day thing. Literally from places to rent to legitimate banking to credit card processing to just getting bank funding, none of that is accessible to us.”
Sims currently retains several lawyers to help ensure that his business remains lawful in the state of North Carolina. He also contributes to cannabis lobbying and business associations, including the nascent Southeastern Cannabis Retailers Association.
The hope is that by putting some of the business’ profits toward legal protection, Crowntown can keep its doors open.
“We pay so much money just to exist,” Sims said. “It’s hard to exist.”
The elephant in the room is, of course, the legality of his product.
Though North Carolina currently allows the sale and consumption of cannabis products like Delta 8 and CBD, there remains a stunning lack of federal protection for those drugs.
And those feeble state protections could soon expire. The 2018 Farm Bill enabled people like Sims to start producing and selling cannabis products.
Now, with the bill reaching its sunset on June 30, there is potential for hemp derivatives like Delta 8 to once again be classified as illegal.
So even on the cusp of a new business opportunity during the most lucrative week of the year, it’s a problem lingering on Sims’ mind.
“There are all these things I should be celebrating,” he said. “But ultimately, I realize that at any moment, with a stroke of a pen, or a change in election results, my business could be completely gone overnight.”
Even though these problems have plagued Crowntown from the beginning, Sims is determined to keep growing.
“When the Farm Bill passed, I told my wife, ‘This [business] is either gonna make us rich or land me in prison,’” he said. “So far, neither one has happened.”
A safe alternative
It’s difficult to understand what would drive someone to work within such a legal gray area. But for Sims, it’s simple.
“I didn’t find this business, it found me,” he said.
Sims was impacted by alcoholism at a young age when his father died due to complications from drinking. To him, cannabis represented a safe alternative to alcohol and other recreational drugs.
“A lot of older and younger adults are looking for social environments that don’t necessarily center around alcohol,” he said.
He hopes that opening an alcohol-free cannabis consumption lounge will provide a sorely-needed respite in nightlife for those in recovery from alcoholism and other sober people.
At the lounge, folks can enjoy open-mic nights, DJ sets, and a social atmosphere without pressure to drink.
Still, cannabis represents more than just a recreational drug to the folks at Crowntown. They have watched firsthand how it can change lives for the better — alleviating pain from chemotherapy treatments, settling anxiety, and transforming how users connection with their community.
And for those reasons, the drug’s criminalization continues to baffle the Crowntown Cannabis team.
“We got a lot of people still sitting behind bars for possession of these things. People of color have taken the largest brunt of the War on Drugs,” Sims said.
“It’s time. It’s 2022. We know not only that this plant is not harmful, but that it helps do what no one has done in the history of life on this planet. I literally watch miracles happen every day in my stores and otherwise from this plant.”
Though the future remains deeply uncertain, Sims won’t stop pushing forward with his plans.
“It feels like it’s almost angering law enforcement and policy makers and politicians. It seems like they were just kinda hoping that we’d have died out by now,” he laughed.
“Despite the odds being stacked against us, we’re all still making it and successfully selling it.”