Are convenience stores about to become even more convenient for cannabis consumers? Maybe.
In October of 2022, Circle K struck a deal with Green Thumb Industries to bring an express dispensary model to gas stations in select Florida locations. The proposed partnership suggested there may soon be an entrance to the dispensary “RISE Express,” separate from the main entrance to the convenience store.
But not long after the news got out, Florida’s State Health Department pumped the brakes. According to them, “Florida has never approved a Medical Marijuana Treatment Center to operate out of a gas station.”
Are Circle K and Green Thumb Industries just dreaming big? Or is there a deal that may actually be in the works? It remains to be seen. Yet, as the industry continues to hope for federal legalization, the concept may become practical in the future.
Why gas stations?
An estimated 80% of the fuel purchased in the United States occurs at a local convenience store rather than fueling stations that sell only gas and diesel. Countless market studies prove that consumers want their shopping experiences to be as easy as possible.
Research shows that 44% of fuel customers are in-store shoppers. And the selection of goods available can and does influence where they stop to fill up their tank. In other words, pairing cannabis with gas and goods at the convenience store promotes business for all parties involved.
This can be especially helpful for gas stations on interstate highways or in secluded areas.
How will cannabis in gas stations impact the industry?
Of course, opening up access to cannabis in this way is bound to have an impact on the industry, both positive and negative.
Over 700,000 people in Florida, a medical-only state, carry a medical cannabis card. Medical cannabis research estimates that number to be well over five million when accounting for all 35 legal states. And that’s medicinal users alone.
On top of that, Circle K’s parent company, Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., ranks as one of the largest convenience store companies in the country – second to only 7-Eleven – with 5,714 locations. Six hundred of those are in Florida.
An express shopping experience would greatly increase the accessibility of medical cannabis. Similar models would also make a greater case for federal legalization. The downside would be that if cannabis was rescheduled from Schedule 1 to completely unscheduled (or over-the-counter, Schedule 5), it could unintentionally dismantle state medical programs built around professional medical guidance.
Destigmatization through convenience
There are currently no states that allow shipping online cannabis purchases, though some do allow delivery. For most consumers looking to buy cannabis, they need to visit a dispensary.
However, a trip to the dispensary becomes less cumbersome if it can be paired with other errands, such as getting gas. Consumers can look forward to picking up both their munchies and cannabis at gas stations.
Selling cannabis in gas stations also has the potential to help de-stigmatize the industry by providing exposure to people who may have otherwise never considered visiting a dispensary. Just like finding that new sushi restaurant, after passing by enough times, you may start to wonder if it’s any good. The same may be true for dispensaries.
As a result of greater accessibility and convenience, cannabis could easily become as de-stigmatized as any other drug or supplement you may find in, say, a CVS.
Take the increased knowledge about the health benefits of cannabis and the grassroots effort of those who are open about their consumption. The industry has the potential to make strides to rise above the stereotype of being only for lazy stoners, punks, hippies, and specific ethnic groups.
There are more than 450 dispensaries across Florida, owned by 22 licensed companies. The addition of RISE Express dispensaries would continue to saturate the market, making it more difficult for newer entrepreneurs or social equity applicants to succeed in the industry.
The same could be said of the many other established markets, such as those in Colorado and Oregon. While accessibility is a benefit to consumers, industry players would have a hard time finding success with over-saturation.
Saturation brought on by cannabis in gas stations could also gravely impact social equity programs more than it already has. Several other states have enacted some form of social equity component to their cannabis industry:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
Though all programs are different, they each provide opportunities to minority business owners and/or populations negatively impacted by cannabis laws.
On the other hand, some states (like Florida) don’t have a social equity component. And it may be harder to provide opportunities to this impacted group as additional market share goes to this new dispensary channel.
Buying cannabis at the gas station
Ten years ago, the idea of buying cannabis at the gas station would have seemed impossible. The industry landscape has changed by leaps and bounds. Though we still have a long way to go when it comes to legalization, social equity, and de-stigmatization, gas station dispensaries could transform the industry as we know it.
Whether or not the deal between Circle K and Green Thumb Industries stays intact will be news for cannabis business owners to keep an eye on. It would be the first time that buying cannabis at the gas station is an option in the United States.
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