From the first time I spoke to Megan Stone on the phone, I knew she was a diva. She was a headstrong, business-minded, alpha-female with a razor-sharp eye for detail. Megan is the brains (and beauty) behind the High Road Design Studio, a thriving business she started herself, winning her design firm dozens of accolades. Despite the comedic coincidence of her last name, Megan wasn’t always planning to work in the cannabis industry. We had the pleasure to pick her brain and discuss what it takes to be an award-winning designer and all-around badass businesswoman.
Has it always been your dream to design dispensaries?
In hindsight, the path was always leading to this career. But girl, it would have been nice to know that I was truly on the right path during the 1,473,901 moments along the way that felt like I was LOST AS FUCK.
Looking back, I have definitely always had an inclination for architecture, design, and presentation. I have always felt a very strong connection to the built environment around me. I have also always been someone who cares about what those around me feel. It is my belief that this helps make me the designer that I am.
I remember when my 2nd grade teacher told our class that she and her husband were building a house and I designed the whole thing for them, drew it, and presented it to our class.
I remember mentally space planning how I would use each of the rooms of my middle school if it were my personal home. That’s totally normal, right?
In almost every job I have had– whether it was working in a local coffee shop in high school, or catering swanky events at a private country club throughout college– I was always finding myself handling the primping and polishing of our products and displays.
I guess becoming a designer is really not all that huge of a surprise.
The thing is, I didn’t see many designers growing up, and quite frankly, didn’t know that it was a career path. I could never articulate what is was that I wanted to do, and no wonder, because my true calling in life as a dispensary designer didn’t exist before me. I believe that our souls know things that our conscious selves don’t. My career is my proof for that.
It sounds like your eye for design has been there all along on some level. At what point did cannabis come into your life? Given your name, were you welcomed into the world with the sparking of a blunt?
The weed part– well, that was also a path that makes total sense now but was not something I knew I was venturing down until I was already half way down it.
I tried cannabis for the first time my senior year of high school. It wasn’t until I got to college that I started seeing it as more than a way to party. Then, I started using it as a life supplement more than a “drug.” I would use it before working out. I remember the first time I used it to help me focus and study for a final exam. The older I got, the more I was incorporating it into my day to help me think and experience things in an enlightened, deeper manner.
Then there are those moments where the universe takes over and while you may not know it at the time, everything is about to fall into place.
2007: The job I took after college the year before (being a sales rep for high-end wood windows– a job I thought would at least get me into the world of mansions that my young self always admired) moved me to Palm Springs, CA to manage a new sales territory. I researched California’s medical marijuana program more than I did my sales territory in advance of my move. My medical marijuana card was applied for as soon as I received my CA ID and visited my first dispensary ever in June of 2007. I was immediately unimpressed. This was the coolest thing I had ever walked into a store to buy, yet the first dispensary experience I had was one of the most uncomfortable experiences of my life. That certainly didn’t deter me from the product though.
What Came Next
2009: The recession and a few poor decisions on my part led to my “being let go”from my window shlepping job, and blessed me with the opportunity to head to the beach and enroll in interior design school. I was fired on February 9th around 10 am. Next I moved into the guest room of my best friend’s house in Orange County by 3 pm that day. I started interior design school in Newport Beach 6 weeks later.
2010: The new dispensary I started going to offered me a budtending job. I graciously declined the offer at first. This was because as I had a full-time job (a random job in debt settlement, but a job nonetheless). I walked into the office the next day and found out that our office was closing down in 30 days. Luckily, they hadn’t filled that budtending position in the 18 hours that had passed. I started two weeks later. I was a budtender at that Orange County dispensary the rest of my time in design school, and then some.
2011: About a year into it, my boss wanted to give our shop a face-lift and let me “practice” my design skills on our dispensary.
Here is how that went…
I went with dark brown paint on the walls, light wood flooring, black cases, and a custom feature wall behind our budtending area. I brought in my white Ikea pedestal dining table from my apartment. That became the World’s first candy store-like edibles display, I swear to God. (Ironically, 6 years later, I just repurchased that table for my studio!) I had all of our employees bring in one of their baby pictures, which we framed and displayed in our receptionist’s office to give our store a homey, personal feel.
Our patients absolutely loved it. It was so rewarding to see people feel good when they were in a place that I designed. Not just that they liked the way it looked. It was seeing the fact that they felt really good in our shop. Isn’t that what this is all about– helping people feel good, feel their best? Our patients needed a reason to feel good, whether they were struggling with AIDS or just having a stressful day. Hell, all of us– employees too– needed a reason to feel good about our daily lives. This place I helped give an identity to was able to do that.
That sense of purpose is something I never want to be without. I think it really is my purpose. At least in this phase of life, to help people understand us cannabis users differently. To legitimize us. To accept us. Afterall, we are all cannabinoid users. Some of us just need to supplement what our bodies naturally provide.
You have won numerous awards and accolades for your design projects (congrats!) is there anything you would attribute your success to?
I am pretty sure the equation for my success goes something like:
((unconscious bond to spaces + empathy) + (PASSION x daily THC) / (Midwestern Values + Work Ethic) + financial goals) – desire to conform – need to answer to anyone other than me) ^ fuck making plants illegal
[Read: The sum of my unconscious bond to spaces and empathy, added to the product of my passion and “everyday is Highday” mantra, divided by the sum of my Midwestern Values and work ethic plus financial goals– all of that, minus any desire to conform or the need to answer to anyone other than me. Take all of that bad-bitch-ness and put it to the exponential power of a mentality of “fuck making plants illegal” and that is pretty much what has gotten me out of bed to do my thang over the past 5 years.]
In non-mathematical terms, I think my unique (aka fucking weird) point of view and the human instinct to express oneself has gotten me places in life. Throughout my whole life I have been a little weird. So, the fact that no one else seemed to be envisioning the dispensary experience in the same level of detail and panache that I always seem to is just more #storyofmylife. I realized early on that my vision for what buying cannabis should be like is very different from other people. This forced me to find a way to express my concepts and communicate my value or find another gig.
As a designer, some of the most important ways to communicate one’s ideas is through one’s portfolio of work. From the start, I have been very intentional about building a unique portfolio of work. One that is both totally different from anything anyone has ever seen before, yet immediately recognizable and understandable. People get it when you show them a better retail space, no matter if it sells cannabis or shoes. I seized every opportunity to design spaces that would take great photos and tell good stories. Luckily, there are a lot of great stories to be told in this industry. I’m lucky to have worked with clients who gave me the freedom to bring their stories to life in their dispensary.