As state medical marijuana industry sales have surpassed $130 million in the past year, the field of dispensaries has filled out to over 150.
Republic-based Easy Mountain Investments LLC, dba Easy Mountain Cannabis Co., is among the crowd. A pair of friends left the automobile sales industry to pursue their passion.
Springfield Business Journal is documenting the journey to launch and operate their new business venture through the multipart series, In the Weed.
Two former employees of Republic Ford Lincoln Inc. – including the son of its owner – oversee a medical marijuana dispensary that practically sits in the shadows of the longtime auto dealership.
Friends Alex Paulson and Drew Beine co-own Easy Mountain Cannabis Co. The Republic shop at 7827 W. Farm Road 174 launched in late February, following roughly eight months of construction. Easy Mountain was the recipient of one of 192 state medical marijuana licenses awarded in January by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. As of press time, DHSS reports 152 dispensaries are approved to operate.
Easy Mountain’s 2,500-square-foot, nine-employee shop has product lines for marijuana-infused baked goods, drinks, gummies and honey, as well as strains of cannabis flower, pre-rolled joints, vape cartridges and accessories.
“We both knew that we wanted it and knew it was going to come to this area,” Paulson said of their desire to get into the medical marijuana industry. “Our biggest thing was we wanted to make sure that if there was one around here, we owned it because we wanted to make sure we could do it right for our community.”
Both Paulson, 28, and Beine, 34, have familial business ties in Republic. Drew is the son of Bob Beine, owner of Republic Ford Lincoln, while Alex’s father, Bob Paulson, managed Republic’s Walmart Supercenter. He died in 2011.
The business partners first met a decade ago when Paulson started working at the auto dealership. Beine said other than for a few years when he attended the University of Arkansas, he had been an employee at his father’s business since he was 14.
“I grew up at Republic Ford. It’s always going to be family for me,” he said. “My office window looks right at Republic Ford. There’s not a day that goes by I don’t think about the people there and the amount of work that goes on there every day.
“It feels weird in a way to be away from it now,” he added. “But there’s no way I can deny the opportunity with Alex and Easy Mountain.”
Paulson and Beine told each other many times when working at the auto dealership if voters ever passed medicinal marijuana in the state, they’d pursue starting a dispensary. The 2018 passage of Amendment 2 turned an idea into action as the two began researching the industry. Paulson was finance manager while Beine was general sales manager when the two exited last year from Republic Ford Lincoln.
“It wasn’t like we were looking at a list of 10 businesses and then decided cannabis,” Paulson said. “We loved working in the car business. It was his family business and I’m passionate about automobiles. I have been all my life.”
Paulson said he felt good early on about the chances for their application to be approved by the state – until he realized they were among hundreds of applicants in the running.
“Then I started pretty quickly thinking there’s no way. I kept my expectations low, but I told myself I was going to try as absolutely hard as I can,” he said. “I kept telling myself this was my one shot to get into this thing.”
The owners received a conditional denial email from DHSS in October 2019, due to a formatting error. Paulson said they quickly reapplied and crossed their fingers.
Good news came in January 2020: dispensary application approved.
“That was a crazy feeling,” Paulson said. “At that point in time, I realized my career just changed.”
With Arkifex Studios LLC on board as architect, the owners wanted to build the dispensary in Republic – a decision they knew would be more time consuming and costly than moving into a preexisting building. Paulson said the startup costs landed around $1.3 million, noting all money was invested by friends and family, including an undisclosed amount from Bob Beine. H.C. Rogers Construction Group LLC served as the project’s general contractor.
The coronavirus pandemic delayed the groundbreaking until June 2020 – months later than the owners desired. Still, construction was complete within eight months, and by February the facility received state approval to operate.
Legal medical marijuana sales in Missouri commenced a year ago and has brought in a cumulative $136 million through September this year, according to MHSS data. As more dispensaries have started operations, the sales figures have grown rapidly, nearly doubling from the $70 million cumulative total on June 1.
At Easy Mountain, Paulson and Beine aren’t just the owners; they’re also patients.
Both have used cannabis for years – Beine for roughly 18 years and Paulson for five. Each said the substance helps them with anxiety and depression. Beine said he also uses it for pain management due to a herniated disc in his back from years of playing high school football.
“We both have a history of being pro-cannabis. We’re excited to keep seeing it grow and the shackles kind of come off of cannabis,” Paulson said. “If anything, we’re cannabis first and business second. That’s what’s really helped us in the cannabis business is because connoisseurs of this medicine can see right through the business minded, the money grabs that there are in this industry.”
The shop has served over 2,350 patients since opening with nearly half of them coming from either Republic or Springfield, Paulson said.
“When we opened, we were about 20 patients a day. Now we’re about 100,” he said, noting Saturdays usually average close to 150 patients.
Aside from its cannabis products and accessories, Easy Mountain also offers online ordering and resources to obtain a medical marijuana card from Elevate Holistics. The owners say education and support for patients are paramount at the dispensary.
“That’s what I try to reiterate every day is that we’re here for our patients,” Paulson said. “A lot of them have waited a long time for access to this and so the least we can do is provide them medicine in the most friendly and supportive way possible.”
After making their professional pivot a year ago, the Easy Mountain owners say they have no regrets about following their passion.
“I love the car business, but this is incredibly rewarding to see people who are having serious health issues, them coming in and seeing their personal progress, the smile on their face and hearing their words of affirmation,” Beine said. “I really feel grateful for the opportunity to have this medicine available.”
A career pivot for a former human resources professional resulted in Bosky’s Vegan Grill; Neverending Game Store LLC made its second move in as many years; and Mercy Springfield Communities added a second Queen City clinic focused on sports rehabilitation and performance improvement.