Major marijuana brand name to disappear in Arizona after merger with Florida company

Ryan Randazzo
Arizona Republic

The first Trulieve-branded marijuana store opened in Arizona this month on Roosevelt Row after the Florida-based company merged last year with Arizona's largest homegrown cannabis company, Harvest.

It marks the start of the end for the brand name in the state.

The new shop is at the northeast corner of Roosevelt and Seventh streets, and the Friday grand opening was attended by Congressman Greg Stanton, whose wife serves as a corporate attorney for the company, as well as state Rep. Jennifer Longdon, D-Phoenix, and a representative from Mayor Kate Gallego's office, who declared Aug. 5 "Trulieve Day" in the city.

The $2.1 billion Trulieve-Harvest merger was announced last year and closed in October, which is when Trulieve had to rebrand Harvest shops in Florida because of regulations in that state. The rollout of new store branding in Arizona is only just beginning.

The combined company now has about 9,000 employees in 11 states, and about 170 dispensaries, including 18 in Arizona with the addition of the Roosevelt Row shop. More are on the way. Eventually, they all will be rebranded as Trulieve stores, starting with the new shops that open.

The company soon will open its 19th Arizona store in Tucson, and 20th in Sierra Vista by the end of the year.

Trulieve founder and CEO Kim Rivers and President Steve White, who launched Harvest, talked Friday about the company's expansion plans in Arizona, as well as some of the hot-button issues in the state, including concerns over the social-equity program and safety testing products.

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"We understand and appreciate that Harvest has been a core contributor to this community for a long time," Rivers said of the Trulieve rebranding starting in Arizona. "There will be significant activity over the next 12 months," Rivers said.

Rivers discusses social-equity licenses

After cutting the ribbon on the new shop, Rivers spoke emphatically about her support for social-equity licenses and her frustration that critics have suggested the company is protecting its market share by opposing measures to remove obstacles for social-equity shops.

When Arizona voters approved recreational sales in addition to medical in 2020, they also approved the state issuing 26 new social-equity licenses to people who have been disproportionately harmed by previous laws against marijuana.

Store supervisor Peter Shanahan helps a customer at Trulieve Dispensary in Phoenix on Aug. 6, 2022.

Those licenses were issued through a lottery, but zoning issues in major cities like Phoenix and Tucson threaten to keep the winners from opening shops there. Other cities have simply banned the new shops. If the licenses are not used to open a shop by October 2023, the Arizona Department of Health Services will revoke them.

A bill that failed recently in the state legislature, House Bill 2050, would have fixed the problems, but Trulieve and other major dispensaries opposed the bill because it also included a host of other provisions, like issuing new rural licenses to people who didn't win them in the previous lotteries.

Rivers said Trulieve is a strong supporter of social equity and was frustrated that critics suggested otherwise when the company opposed the bill.

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"The notion that Trulieve is in any way shape or form anti-social equity or anti minority licensure is absolutely false," she said. "Our history and body of work is very clear and very consistent on that point."

She said the company supports social-equity licenses being used to open new shops in Arizona, but was not supportive of the way the bill was written to include so many disparate elements.

Rivers addressed the inequities of marijuana regulations during her public remarks at Friday's opening.

"There are still people in jail today for cannabis," Rivers said. "I recognize the irony. I don't believe it's right. We are fighting for that to change."

Afterward she discussed the company's commitment to helping reverse some of the harm done by prohibition.

Trulieve in April announced a partnership with DeLisioso, a Florida-based company founded by Richard DeLisi and his son Rick. The elder DeLisi served 32 years of a 90-year sentence for marijuana. Some of the profits from the partnership go to The Last Prisoner Project, which aims to get such prisoners freed.

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With HB 2050 dead and the next legislative session not starting until January, White said Trulieve would support cities like Phoenix and Tucson making the required zoning changes to ensure the state's social-equity winners can put their licenses to use.

"We've always been supportive of loosening zoning requirements for cannabis business of all types," White said. "And we have done everything possible through the (Arizona Dispensaries Association) channel to help people who are trying to get things open. The issue is not always the zoning."

White said Trulieve and other cannabis companies in Arizona have offered their assistance to the winners of social equity licenses. But, he said, many of those winners who don't already have a relationship with a big dispensary company are reluctant to seek out such help because "they don't know who they can trust."

Officials discuss Arizona lab testing

Another issue HB 2050 would have addressed was shortcomings in the Arizona testing rules. A recent investigation by The Arizona Republic found highly contaminated marijuana being sold exclusively to medical patients, despite it having certified lab results that indicated the products were pesticide free.

Hybrid, Sativa, and Indica flowers are displayed in cases that allow customers to smell them in Arizona's first Trulieve Dispensary store in phoenix on Aug. 6, 2022.

In response, lawmakers included provisions in HB 2050 to make the state testing more rigorous, including requirements for the state to conduct "secret shopper" type activities where products would be taken from dispensary shelves and tested to ensure they matched the advertised test results for purity and potency.

Rivers and White said that Trulieve would support increased testing requirements as contemplated in HB 2050, but could offer advice on how to make any new rules more effective. For example, Rivers said testing programs run by regulators can be more effective when the labs are responsible for collecting samples of the products to be tested, rather than allowing growers to deliver what they want tested to labs.

"We are supportive of lab testing," she said. "It is critical for a safe and regulated environment, and is one of the distinguishing factors between a legal market and an illicit market."

And while she said she supports a "secret shopper" program that was proposed in HB 2050, she thinks that similar efforts to randomly test products are more effective if they capture products before they are on the shelf, ensuring any contaminated product hasn't already been sold to customers.

Reach reporter Ryan Randazzo at ryan.randazzo@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-4331. Follow him on Twitter @UtilityReporter.