By now, you've probably noticed an increased subtlety to the storefronts of cannabis dispensaries. Portland's newest shops look less like stoner dens and more like mysterious botany stores. For long-term patients, it's jarring to reconcile these shiny new dispensaries with the bulletproof windows that budtenders slid our Ziploc baggie of medicine through a few years ago. Many customers still feel a breeze of shame as they walk away with a brown bag wadded in their palm.
"When I talked to people about visiting dispensaries, they sounded like they felt guilty, like walking into a porn shop," says Portland native Cambria Benson, director of marketing for Serra dispensary.
So Benson set out to create a space where customers feel comfortable shopping for cannabis without any sense of wrongdoing. And she succeeded. When you leave Serra, the feeling is similar to leaving Anthropologie: slightly numbed by the curated beauty of the place, a sense of being underdressed, but without the guilt of paying too much for something you'll ruin in one smoke sesh.
The reception desk at Serra's Southeast Belmont Street shop resembles the lobby of a boutique hotel. At Serra's new downtown location on Southwest 1st Avenue, there's a La Marzocco espresso machine on the white granite tabletop. From the gold details on the light fixtures to the origami-wrapped chopsticks for measuring buds, the chic setup uses every opportunity to incorporate minimalist sophistication. That includes the dainty, greenhouse-style display cases. The combination-lock stash bags for sale can double as stylish leather clutches, and the rose-gold grinders look like they belong in a velvet-cushioned Rolex case.
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Benson and her team take the inventory as seriously as the design. Rather than the limited and illogical binary of indica and sativa, you can select a combination of six "feelings" when deciding your strain from the array of indigo-stained ceramic dishes: relaxation, focus, creativity, happiness, pain relief and energy.
Serra worked with Pruf Cultivar on customized strains for its menu, and carries local vendors at each location. With a shop in Eugene, Serra has easy access to Southern Oregon flower. After describing my ideal strain as "happiness, energy and creativity," I was recommended Smarties, a strain with 25.5 percent THC—and you feel every bit of that. Reflective of its kush genes, Smarties has a sweet, skunky scent, and provides a happy, sociable high. Although it didn't make me lazy, I spent a lot of that focused energy editing a picture of my cat for Instagram.
Luxury dispensaries are not without critics, of course. This high-end pot shop replaced the beloved Belmont Bodega, and I can imagine old-school stoners grumbling about the pink mood crystals on the shelves and the posh furnishings. But peel back the sleek decor and you'll find sincere people with their hearts and business in the right place. Serra's high-quality medicine is pricier than most because it's carefully grown, and the shop is doing good work to educate the public about the complexities of cannabis genetics.
GO: Serra, 2519 SE Belmont St., 971-544-7055; 220 SW 1st Ave., 971-279-5613; serracannabis.com. 10 am-10 pm Monday-Saturday, 11 am-7 pm Sunday.