COWLITZ RESERVATION — As rain cascaded from the sky, tribal drums beat to mark a 4-20 occasion — a new bright green brick and mortar cannabis dispensary, Q’anápsu, opening Thursday afternoon.
A crowd huddled under the store’s covered entrance area, while others simply stood in the rain, celebrating the opening and waiting for their chance to get inside the new store, the name of which is the Cowlitz Coast Salish word for “grass.”
Natalie Fox of Battle Ground showed up to support the tribe, she said, mentioning the work it has done in the community, like installing a new covered patio at the Veteran of Foreign Wars building in Vancouver.
The store will be good for the community, she said.
“The more support they can get with their businesses, the more they can help out,” Fox added. “I’m all for that.”
The opening also saw attendance from others in the industry.
“We’ve been kind of keeping an eye on them since they were in the truck and are really excited that they got their brick and mortar open,” said Ashleen Aguilar, a local cannabis entrepreneur. A temporary storefront opened on the reservation in 2022.
Rileigh Aguilar added that she thinks the tribal dispensary will add variation to the local industry. The tribe, she said, will get to sell merchandise and have the potential to be vertically integrated, which is different from other shops in the area.
It will also “bring cannabis tourism to the area with the casino and the new hotel opening up,” she said. “It’s just going to be really, really awesome.”
The tribe’s hotel at ilani is opening Monday.
The idea for the tribal dispensary came from the late Dave Barnett, the tribe’s former chairman.
Barnett “wanted this to be a fully immersive, functional art experience that was best in class in terms of design and that really spoke at an underlying level to the cultural foundations of the tribe,” said Kent Caputo, chief operating officer with the Cowlitz Indian Tribe.
The new facility incorporates seemingly serious security measures for the protection of customers and staff. But it also incorporates many design elements reflecting the tribe’s heritage.
The tribe’s language is present not just in the name of the store but also on signs throughout. Icons on the walls are influenced by the area, and a display table in the middle of the shop is meant to replicate the landscape. And hanging overhead are large light fixtures resembling the woven headgear worn by tribal members. Each fixture is made up of several wooden pieces, each meant to look like blades of grass.
From Barnett’s initial vision, the tribe’s new chairwoman, Patty Kinswa-Gaiser, and the tribal leaders, with the help of project manager Karlee Eichenberger, brought the idea into fruition, said Caputo.
The dispensary has a number of counters housing products, as well as an area for vendors to visit with customers and for customers to spend extra time learning more about the products.
Kinswa-Gaiser even spent time with the staff helping them to understand the customs and culture of the Cowlitz people.
Q’anápsu has 17 employees on its team now, including staff members from the Choctaw, Grande Ronde, Alaska Native and Cowlitz tribes.
The store’s general manager Jamia Cox said there’s joy in working for the tribe and seeing the tax revenue collected going to support that. She tries to bring in staff members who feel the same way.
The store was designed to celebrate “the place that we are, the home of the Cowlitz people, as well as some fun nods to cannabis,” said Eichenberger.
The tribe now has five enterprises, the ilani casino and accompanying hotel, the Cowlitz Tobacco Outlet, Q’anápsu and the Cowlitz Crossing gas station and convenience store.
Caputo expects the venture to be a successful one for the tribe.
“We would not have gone to these lengths if we didn’t think it was financially worthwhile,” he said.