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Art-focused retailer sprouts in a central California cannabis desert

(This story is part of the cover package for the May-June issue of MJBizMagazine.)

Being one of a small number of stores in a cannabis desert might seem like an easy proposition: Open your doors and let customers roll in, unencumbered by competition.

But as Lauren Fontein, founder and president of The Artist Tree marijuana chain in California, learned when she opened a store in Fresno (population 500,000), being a cannabis oasis comes with its own challenges.


These include a community inexperienced with cannabis, staffing issues and more.

“It really is a cannabis desert,” Fontein said of California’s Central Valley, a more conservative, agricultural area of the state.

“People really didn’t have that experience of being able to shop in a licensed dispensary.”

While California launched an adult-use marijuana market in 2018, Fresno didn’t award its first licenses until fall 2021, Fontein recalled, long after most

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