By all accounts, the Oklahoma cannabis industry is a runaway success. Medical marijuana sales routinely break expectations and smash records, even amid the pandemic. Oklahoma permits a free-market system for medical cannabis, or as close to one as possible. That means no licensing caps, no municipality zoning restrictions, and doctors can recommend cannabis for any ailment they see fit.
This has allowed Oklahoma to avoid the typical headwinds thwarting growth potential in other markets. But for some dispensary owners, a new obstacle has emerged from an unlikely opponent — 7-Eleven.
Back in January, 7-Eleven Inc. bought out property leased to multiple cannabis dispensaries in Oklahoma. Dispensary owners were told not to worry. “On day one, nothing changes,” an email sent to owners read. “There is no need for lease assignments.”
Now, amid a global pandemic, multiple dispensary owners have been informed those leases won’t be renewed. Owners like Starla Norwood, a registered nurse who operates The Nurses Station with her husband, didn’t receive a written notice or explanation for why they’d been kicked out. Instead, the property managers delivered the news over the phone. The message was direct and clear: Marijuana businesses had 14-days notice to vacate by the end of June.
“What we’re hearing from 7-Eleven is they consider this a criminal activity and money laundering, and there are 300,000 Oklahomans with medical cards, and they seem to think their business is not important,” Norwood told local news station KFOR.
Those who attempted a dialogue with the property managers were confronted with a unflinching wall. No investigation or business review would occur. When some inquired about the 30-day notice requirement by landlord and tenant in their contracts, they were redirected to a different clause that essentially voided that stipulation.
“She just said that they’re not for marijuana, they don’t believe in it, and they’re not renewing any leases going forward with anyone who’s in the marijuana business and leases from 7-Eleven,” John Koumbis, owner of JKJ Processing Inc., told The Oklahoma Chronic.
Still, Koumbis pushed back. He asked when 7-Eleven had reached this outcome. Possibly, it was a business decision caused by the pandemic. But Koumbis learned this was 7-Eleven’s plan since January when the company took over the leases. They had just waited until the last possible moment to tell the marijuana businesses.
“The building we occupy, it sat empty for over 12 years before we leased it, it took a lot of time and money just to get it up to code, and so many other mom and pop shops are in the same boat,” Koumbis said. “They’ve sunk their life savings into these places, and they’re just getting pushed out now.”
The news could pose a devastating setback to the Oklahoma green rush. In May, Oklahoma medical marijuana sales hit $73 million, the highest monthly figure yet.