Los Angeles’s famous Sunset Strip has a storied and often sordid history as the epicenter of sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll in America. The mile-and-a-half-long corridor has embraced its countercultural reputation, and its iconic venues like the Viper Room, the Roxy, the Whisky a Go Go, and the Comedy Store all have played pivotal roles as launchpads of American culture.
While the strip was infamous for its hard-drug hedonism of the 1980s and early 1990s, cannabis largely has been absent—even as the City of West Hollywood launched an ambitious project to become the world’s premiere cannabis tourism destination.
That looks set to change with the recent opening of Urbn Leaf West Hollywood, Sunset Strip’s first legal dispensary. While several high-profile stores dot nearby Santa Monica Boulevard and Melrose Avenue, San Diego native Urbn Leaf will be the first to plant its flag on the iconic strip. Surrounded by high-class clubs, plush hotels, and lavish boutiques, the dispensary will service a high-dollar yet largely tourist consumer base that no doubt will be seduced by the store’s luxurious presentation of California cannabis.
The Sunset location officially opened on February 3 and is the fifteenth store in the portfolio of parent company StateHouse Holdings, which merged the north-south retail giants Harborside and Urbn Leaf last year to create one of the largest footprints in California.
Will Senn, Urbn Leaf’s founder and the current chief corporate development officer for StateHouse, had been weighing up opportunities in West Hollywood for years. Ultimately, it took the merger to present a license in partnership with Sol Yamini, owner of the neighborhood’s popular bodega and delivery service The Pink Dot, which is next door to the new store.
“I love that market,” said Senn. “The city is very favorable to cannabis, and it’s an epicenter for culture and brands. I thought our brand would translate really well to West Hollywood, and once it became clear that we had an opportunity at such a prime location, we got to work immediately.”
The wait ultimately may have been to the store’s benefit. With post-COVID tourism predicted to continue its positive rebound in 2023, the locale is expected to see more well-heeled guests filling its 10,000 hotel rooms, while the area’s world-famous bars, restaurants, and event venues continue to pull revelers from all across the city.
“We’re extremely excited about this location,” said Angela Pih, StateHouse’s head of marketing. “Even though we have a lot of great stores in our footprint, this one will be our flagship.”
Urbn Leaf West Hollywood is relatively small but very efficient in its layout and design. The combination of high ceilings and a spacious open floor plan divided by a trio of elegant glass displays—currently showcasing StateHouse-owned brands King Pen, Fuzzies, and Smokiez, though they will be open to brand takeovers—makes the space feel intimate without being claustrophobic.
The ID-check counter sits to the side in front of a shop-in-shop, which Pih explains will be available to third-party brands going forward. “We want to give the brands a chance to have a more customized presence in the store, like you might find at Bloomingdales or Nordstrom,” she said.
The department store reference is more than apt. From the moment a customer pulls open the towering glass doors to strut across the white marble floor, it’s clear this is an environment for indulgence and retail self-care. Given the affluence that either passes through or permanently resides in the neighborhood, Urbn Leaf more than meets the expectation for opulence.
“In our first week, we had one customer from out of town whose basket value was $1,200,” Pih said. “He was planning to take it all back on his private jet! Those are the types of shoppers we expect to see in West Hollywood.”
The store is among the first in Los Angeles to offer guests a shopping basket, a strategy pioneered by Harborside’s Oakland location and others around the Bay Area that has been slow to take off farther south.
“The basket makes the experience feel very special,” said Pih. “People love being able to touch the product, interact with it, take in the information comfortably in their own time, and then put it in their basket. And if anyone needs assistance, the budtender is there on the floor. The goal is to never make someone feel rushed.”
The majority of the product is housed in subtly lit recessed white-oak shelves, pegboard walls, or refrigerators around the perimeter of the room, with a marble display counter showcasing a variety of quick grabs like pre-rolls.
Aside from StateHouse’s portfolio brands, the store stocks a broad and vibrant selection of hype and quality brands including Jeeter, Ball Family Farms, Uncle Arnie’s, and Traditional. The inventory assortment leans toward tourists and those coming to the neighborhood for a show, highlighted by the strong emphasis on grab-and-go products that can be consumed without equipment.
“We are prioritizing more ready-to-go items like premium pre-rolls, solventless vapes, edibles, and beverages,” said Pih. “We definitely designed the store with in-and-out shoppers in mind, but we’re definitely not ignoring the local WeHo community. We have almost 500 [products] across all of the core categories and a delivery service launching very soon.”
The potential for the location extends beyond the store itself. As part of the Pink Dot relationship, Urbn Leaf has full use of the forty-four-car parking lot tucked behind it, which can be used for outdoor consumption events. But where things really get interesting is the vacant storefronts in the strip mall between Urbn Leaf and The Pink Dot. StateHouse obtained a consumption license for the space and has big plans to activate all 6,500 square feet in the near future.
“There’s a real convenience if you’re a tourist or business traveler to be able to purchase your cannabis in the store, walk next door, and try it. That’s a game-changer,” said Senn. “But it needs to be an extension of the store as opposed to a standalone business. They need to work together.”
Taking a step back from this store and looking at StateHouse’s portfolio provides a bird’s-eye view of cannabis retail’s remarkable journey. Since Harborside Oakland opened seventeen years ago, dispensaries have gone from occupying shady, remote industrial sites to exhibiting pride of place on one of America’s glitziest commercial corridors serving high-rolling tourists.
“Historically, zoning for cannabis retail has relegated stores to less-than-prime locations like our Urbn Leaf San Jose store, which is off the beaten path behind mechanics and industrial facilities,” said Pih. “Now we’re opening a proper high-street dispensary on the Sunset Strip. That’s an incredible arc of normalization for customers, regulators, and our company. We’re extremely proud to have that kind of history within StateHouse and to be trusted with breaking new ground in new communities.”