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Documenting the signage of cannabis dispensaries in Portland, OR.

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Cannabis culture is evolving across the US, and perhaps more quickly in places like Portland, OR, where both medical and recreational use are legal, not to mention the source of a booming tourist trade. Dispensaries range from dim corner shops to sleekly branded behemoths with venture capitalist backers.

The industry is still young; it’s not rare for a gorgeous exterior to give way to a puzzlingly unplanned interior. In addition, because marijuana is federally illegal, most dispensaries operate on a cash-only basis; federal banks simply won’t take money from these ventures. That means onsite safes and paying vendors, suppliers and even taxes in cash. Though slowly changing, it’s still a factor that reduces the potential workforce (e.g., dispensary staffers are often denied mortgage loans).

Security is at the forefront; checking IDs is mandatory and cannabis products usually are behind a glass case – and a locked door. Even in Portland’s parking-starved neighborhoods, designated lots are a usual site.

Décor-wise, a few key components are so common that it’s as if the state regulates signage elements along with growing and selling. Wall murals, particularly by local artists, make regular appearances. Clouded glass or adhesive vinyl creates a common privacy screen into inner dispensary areas, while handwritten chalkboard signage proffers detailed lists of products by strain and type. (Even the high-end shops seem to go for the chalk look.) And while the pegboard-on-a-wall method of merchandising is as widespread as it is economical, more and more proprietors are investing in high-end external signage. Peruse the most beautiful of what Portland has to offer – and be ready to pitch potential clients as legalization spreads across the US.

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