The first thing you might notice when walking into a Hashtag dispensary is a sense of welcome. A Pride flag hangs on the wall of their Seattle location, and if you’re there at the right time, you might see a dog or two hanging out with staff and customers.
Launched in 2015, Hashtag dispensary now occupies three western Washington locations: Seattle, Redmond, and Everett. Early in Washington’s i502 days, husband and wife team Jerina Pillert and Logan Bowers got their hands on a few licenses from the state’s lottery system. They first set up shop in Seattle and then expanded carefully and gradually. They’re comfortable where they’re at, and don’t plan to expand elsewhere.
“We needed those licenses early on, when they were much more affordable,” explains Hashtag’s marketing and creative director Christine Cohen. Getting the license was just the start, though. Then there’s the process of finding a location that works with the state’s tight zoning regulations, which at times felt impossible. It was particularly difficult landing real estate for the most recent Hashtag installment, the Everett location. “I think the city issued licenses but didn’t want people. There was some back and forth between the city’s law. But then it finally changed and we got a spot,” Cohen tells me.
Expanding from Seattle into two other cities helped the Hashtag team cast a much wider net. While they’re sticking to these three cities, the creative team has found other ways to grow, hone in on that net, and build community– a pillar of Hashtag’s existence.
“We have this additional cafe space here,” Cohen tells me as she points to an extra room in the back area of the Seattle store. “We’re planning on converting that to a coffee shop and maybe selling some hemp CBD products, depending on the market and what’s legal when that launches.”
The additional space in the back of the Seattle location looks ideal for a cafe, but right now, it’s an idea for the future. The Redmond location, however, is expected to open its cafe space sometime this year.
“Jerina just wants to keep expanding businesses. She loves doing good for her employees, it’s one of her main motivations,” adds Cohen. “Being able to expand and have more roles is great and it’s also a smart business move for stability.”
Doing good is something you’ll hear a lot when in Hashtag’s sphere, whether it’s an in-person conversation or a post on their Instagram about donating to trans-led organizations through the Floret Coalition or calls to donate to The Last Prisoner Project.
Cohen tells me that Hashtag’s partnerships with The Last Prisoner Project and The Floret Coalition are very important to the team, but their advocacy doesn’t end there. “We’re big supporters of pro-choice Washington. The right to choose is very important to our staff,” she explains. Hashtag did a fundraiser for Northwest Immigrants Rights Project early in the Trump administration, and today, they collect donations for Mary’s Place, a nonprofit shelter and services program, as well as food bank donations.
Along with advocacy outside Hashtag’s walls, the company is invested in its staff’s success. For example, they like to promote from within. Christine Cohen started as a budtender back in 2015, solely because she needed a job. “I’d been a medical marijuana patient and was like, where can I get a good discount?” she laughs.
Today, she leads the company’s marketing department. And while it’s not always easy with regulations, it’s a creative challenge that’s been fun for her to take on. “I spend a lot of time thinking about all the things I can’t do. But that’s okay. There’s still plenty we can do.”
As an active Washington cannabis consumer, Hashtag was on my radar long before I stepped foot in their store, simply for their social media and internet presence. They’ve been playing the long game for years, driving readers to their website to read posts and learn about cannabis as well as maintaining an active Instagram account, where they mix personal posts like budtender favorites with social justice-oriented content. (They’re currently rebuilding their Instagram account, as they were recently victims of Zuckerberg’s penchant for deleting cannabis accounts.)
Their latest community engagement tactic is a “Getting Lit with Cannabis” series where the Hashtag team shares a post highlighting their favorite cannabis books with the community. All of the selections are written by BIPOC authors.
The team has found ways to be creative with their marketing and outreach due to tight regulations in the state’s market, but those tight regulations are not the top frustration on Cohen’s mind. She’s much more concerned about safety, and with the ever-stagnant SAFE Banking Act forcing businesses to operate cash only, it’s a very real concern.
“We’ve had a few burglaries,” she says in a much more somber tone than the rest of our conversation. “Each time we have one, we’re like, oh, well that’s a weak point we didn’t foresee. And then we fix it.”
Cohen tells me that one of the biggest dangers in the entire industry is the lack of safe banking and the risk of robberies. The Hashtag team brings it up during the interview process, during onboarding, and whenever relevant on the job.
“Our training includes a lot of language like we don’t want you to be a hero,” she explains. “Nothing is more important to us than you.”
Hashtag seems to have the whole pivoting and working within your means thing figured out. They can’t make SAFE banking pass, but they can do their best to protect their workers. They can’t change advertising regulations, but they can get creative with how they market themselves.
This attitude helped the team move locations twice during the pandemic – once for their Seattle spot and once for their Redmond store. It was tough, but they made it work.
“You know, these are the rules we have to play with, so let’s just do our best,” Cohen tells me. “Rather than kick ourselves or be too upset about it, we can make the best of it.”