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Medical Marijuana Market Fuels Cherokee Street's 'Green Light District' Ambitions

Cherokee Street — known for its quirky, homegrown businesses — could soon be known as the “Green Light District.” At least that’s what Brennan England hopes. 

The longtime activist for marijuana legalization in Missouri coined the term to brand the south city street and the surrounding neighborhoods as St. Louis’ center for cannabis culture.

“It’s a term that's designed to attract what will be a positive and intentional cannabis tourism to St. Louis and give it a home where it can grow naturally — where it's not overthrown with corporate interest, but it has a place to actually have that grit and that soul,” he said.

Medical marijuana cardholders can bring their own marijuana to The Cola Lounge or purchase CBD flower and paraphernalia.
Credit Corinne Ruff | St. Louis Public Radio
Medical marijuana cardholders can bring their own marijuana to The Cola Lounge or purchase CBD flower and paraphernalia.

Last summer, England opened Missouri’s first private cannabis consumption lounge — the Cola Lounge — to support what he saw as a budding industry along Cherokee Street. 

The street already is dotted with CBD shops and medical marijuana advocacy centers — and soon it will be home to the city’s largest concentration of dispensaries. Three are expected to open along a one-mile strip over the next few months, including Viola, Growing Jobs Missouri and BeLeaf Medical.

Dispensaries prepare to open

About two blocks down the street from the Cola Lounge, tucked behind Earthbound Beer, sits an abandoned bank with graffiti on the windows.

“That’s become sort of a neighborhood parking lot more than anything,” said Tim Woods, co-owner of Green Earth Art Co., as he points across the street from his shop.

But in a few months, construction will begin transforming it into a medical marijuana dispensary.

“My personal hope, selfish hope, is that it brings in daytime traffic to the neighborhood,” Woods said.

Abe Givins’ vision for the building’s exterior includes a wall-length mural of cultural icons like basketball player Kobe Bryant and rapper Nipsey Hussle, as well as a secure parking lot. Givins co-owns the forthcoming dispensary — Viola — as well as another in downtown St. Louis, with his cousin and former NBA star Larry Hughes.

When it came to planning a dispensary in his hometown, Givins said Cherokee Street was his first pick.

“All ethnicities kind of come to Cherokee Street, so I think it’s kind of like a vibe,” he said.

As one of few black dispensary owners, Givins said serving and employing communities of color is really important to him and Hughes, whose role, in part, is to help give formerly incarcerated people an opportunity in the legal cannabis business.

Late last year, Givins helped open a recreational dispensary in Detroit for parent company Viola Brands. It was founded by Hughes’ former New York Knicks teammate Al Harrington. The company has been cultivating marijuana and manufacturing infused products in states like Colorado and Oregon for nearly a decade. 

Abe Givins leans against a formerly abandoned bank, which he plans to transform into a medical marijuana dispensary just off Cherokee Street.
Credit Corinne Ruff | St. Louis Public Radio
Abe Givins leans against a formerly abandoned bank, which he plans to transform into a medical marijuana dispensary just off Cherokee Street.

Givins said his business will focus heavily on community impact, like giving back to area community centers and making sure vulnerable populations have access to the dispensary.

“I want to be able to medicate a lot of people that really need medication — like Army vets, people who have PTSD, people who may have cancer,” he said.

For Givins, the Cherokee Street location is particularly special because of its connection to Alderwoman Cara Spencer, whose 20th Ward includes the south side of the neighborhood.

Hughes’ little brother, Justin, received a heart transplant from Spencer’s sister more than 20 years ago. He passed away due to complications in 2006, but Givins still considers the Spencers family.

“I think it's one of those things where, I don’t know, maybe Justin sent me this way,” Givins said. “Maybe it's a helping moment coming back full circle.” 

‘A hub for cannabis’

Cherokee Street is known for testing seemingly unusual business concepts — like a spiked juice cafe, a button shop and a bar where you pay by the hour instead of per drink.

Of any neighborhood in St. Louis, Alderwoman Spencer said Cherokee Street is an obvious place for the cannabis industry to bloom. 

“We’re right down the street from the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, Lemp Brewery. This is a home of new industries taking shape for St. Louis,” she said. “In fact, one of the cultivation sites is in the former Lemp Brewery, and so I think that is a natural home for a hub for cannabis.”

Spencer doesn’t see much downside for the new industry or residents. She said her biggest concern is making sure there will be enough parking to go around once the dispensaries open.

Plus, she said the tax revenue from those businesses will be a big win for the city. While city officials haven’t yet crunched the numbers on how much money the new industry could generate in taxes, the hope is that it will bring in revenue.

The alderwoman also said she hopes marijuana-related businesses will have a positive effect on shops and restaurants that have been on Cherokee Street for years. Spencer is a fierce advocate for neighborhood businesses. In fact, she recently moved her campaign office into a building that housed music venue mainstay Foam for a decade.

“I want to see that we’re working with existing businesses — we’re not taking, but we’re adding to,” she said.

Follow Corinne on Twitter:@corinnesusan

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Corinne is the economic development reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.