Marijuana is the fastest-growing industry in the United States and is worth billions of dollars.
"In case you haven't noticed, we're not here just selling joints anymore," said Megan Stone, a dispensary designer based out of Tempe. "We're selling edibles. We're selling beverages. We're selling topicals. we're selling concentrates."
Stone says she is the only dispensary designer in the country that is giving marijuana a makeover.
"I think the retail industry was excited for a new topic. It also saw the opportunity I was seizing to start something entirely brand new," Stone said.
Her award-winning High Road Design Studio has transformed 28 dispensaries in 13 states, in just the past three years.
"Seeing people's reactions is always the coolest thing," Stone said.
Take Level Up in Scottsdale, for example-- the upscale dispensary showcases Stone's talent with the look of a high-end department store. From the contemporary flooring and shiny fixtures to the flow and function of the space, she said it's where retail science is on display.
"When you come in, you want this space to feel normal. And one of the ways to make things feel normal is abiding by the ways we know people shop, spend money and make decisions. Whether they're buying lipstick or whether they're buying cannabis, we don't have to reinvent the wheel," she said.
For example, close attention is paid to the way the product looks on the store's shelves.
"Do we want to display one perfect item as though it's a high-end handbag or do you want to cram your shelves with peg hooks so it feels like a convenience store?" Stone said.
She also explained that lighting plays a huge role.
"Lighting is big. Lighting sets so much drama in the space, but lighting is also important when you're trying to observe something up close-- and that is a big part of the process of shopping cannabis," Stone said. "The lighting really ended up being the piece that brought it all together."
Stone also designed the award-winning concentrate bar at Tru Med in Phoenix. "Dispensary design is the new thing and with a lot of competition. We're looking to have a clean, vibrant, look here," said Tru Med's Lauren Gooding.
Gooding said that the look helps patients feel comfortable, especially new ones who may be intimidated by the process.
“They think in their mind what a pot shop might look like and they don't want to be apart of it, but I think this is helping open up peoples’ eyes by saying, 'You know what, I can become a patient and still sit here in a medical office.' It is a medical feel," said Gooding, who is also a chemotherapy nurse. "I want to make sure that patients understand that it is a drug and it's something to take seriously, but not to be ashamed of engaging in it.”
However, Arizona's most outspoken critic of marijuana isn't having it.
"Well, you can put lipstick on a pig," Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said. "When I hear that phrase, medical marijuana makeover, I just hear: re-purposing the marketing scheme to try to get more users. And, ultimately, that's really what those who have a financial interest in medical marijuana are trying to do."
Montgomery said that the vast majority of medical marijuana cardholders are men between the ages of 18 and 40, and that high-end looking dispensaries aim to pump those numbers up.
"In the glamorization of it is the allure to draw in young adults," Montgomery said.
He also said that voters originally approved medical marijuana uses for specific diseases and end-of-life pain relief. Today, though, he said that only three percent of users in Arizona fall under those conditions.
"I think the attempt to glamorize or normalize marijuana is certainly part of an effort to create an environment in which recreational use could pass again in the future," Montgomery said.
The negative stigma is what Stone is hoping to change.
"People seem to be OK admitting there might be some medical value to it, but they're still not OK admitting that it might be OK for me and my family or my neighbors," Stone said. "That is really at the core of my mission and what I'm trying to do.”-- That's because Stone is not your typical cannabis user. "That's the reality of it, and I'm OK saying that because I see a huge community and huge world of people just like me. This is a drug they treat as a part of their lifestyle and a part of their wellness regimen," Stone said.
Stone believes information, exposure and time will continue to transform peoples’ opinions about marijuana.
"This industry is exploding and people's perceptions are changing so quickly," she said.
In the meantime, Stone will continue to transform the presentation.
"You now have people seeing that the experience should look and feel like this, just as much as it should be legal and accessible," Stone said.
Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.